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Tuesday, May 11, 1999 Published at 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK

World: Europe

Serb legal action 'abuse of court'

Bomb victim: Belgrade accuses Nato of genocide

The UK Government's senior law officer says the legal action Yugoslavia has begun against 10 Nato countries is an abuse of the process of the International Court of Justice.

Kosovo: Special Report
Attorney General John Morris MP told the judges that they should not entertain an application from a country which stood accused of one of the most systematic and horrifying campaigns of repression seen in Europe since World War II.

Belgrade has asked the UN court in the Hague to order an immediate end to the bombing, saying Nato broke international law by announcing air strikes against Yugoslavia without security council approval.

The Serbs also claim that Nato has been guilty of genocide.

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But Mr Morris suggested that the Yugoslavs were trying to use the international court so they would have a free hand to complete their planned campaign of ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians.

The attorney general asked the judges to imagine what people would think of the international court if its ruling meant that Nato had to lift its military action when that was the only thing holding the oppressors back.

Mr Morris said the UK had acted in accordance with international law and, like the other Nato countries, he argued that the court had no jurisdiction to hear Yugoslavia's request for an immediate ruling against the Nato countries.

He said the judges should look to see whether the country which was seeking its assistance had come to court with clean hands.

Mass rape

Gerhard Westdickenberg, representing Germany, said: "The measures demanded by Belgrade would only serve to heighten the risk of genocide in Kosovo".

Nato launched its air strikes in a bid to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end repression of Kosovo Albanians.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Kosovo telling horrific tales of ethnic cleansing and Serb atrocities including massacres and mass rape.

[ image:  ]
The International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction, but relies on the consent of countries involved in a dispute to respect the orders or recommendations handed down by its judges.

The preliminary hearings, which started on Monday, may be extended into Wednesday so that Yugoslavia can react to the arguments of the 10 respondent states.

A source close to the court said the judges would make an initial ruling on the request to halt Nato's operation within "a few days to three weeks".

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