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Saturday, May 22, 1999 Published at 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: The war for hearts and minds

Refugees: Human cost of the conflict

By European Affairs Analyst William Horsley

Nato's air war has brought many harsh denunciations, especially of Nato's mistakes like the bombing of a hospital and a prison in Yugoslavia this week.

Kosovo: Special Report
China said the bombing has resulted in the greatest human catastrophe since World War Two. The former Soviet President Michael Gorbachev said that politically and morally, Nato has lost.

The International Herald Tribune, an American paper published in Europe, reported that opposition to the bombing has surfaced in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East - in official statements, newspaper editorials and public protests.

In British newspapers many letters express outrage at the number of civilian casualties caused by the bombs.

A common view in the opinion columns, of papers across Europe and North America is that the war, although in a just cause, is being bungled. The Times of London wrote bluntly: "Give war a chance".

Strikes anger

[ image: Nato target: Bombed fuel depot:]
Nato target: Bombed fuel depot:
But in Italy and Greece, public feeling is running strongly against the bombing campaign. The past week saw acts of urban guerrilla violence inspired by hostility to what the alliance is doing.

Sweden and Switzerland, whose diplomatic buildings in Belgrade were damaged in the air strikes, now complain that the bombing is too indiscriminate.

Against that, the denunciations by Nato spokesmen and government ministers of Serb atrocities against the Kosovo Albanians continue to be reported day after day.

A top official of the International War Crimes Tribunal says up to quarter of a million ethnic Albanian men are missing, many of them feared dead, in Kosovo.

And the Serbs are now accused of stopping thousands of would-be refugees from fleeing Kosovo in order to use them as human shields in the war.

Internal divisions

[ image: Hundreds of thousands in exile]
Hundreds of thousands in exile
Still, in Britain, many contributors to radio phone-in programmes echo the criticism of opposition politicians. They say the government is raising false hopes by promising to defeat President Milosovic and ensure the safe return of the refugees to their homes in Kosovo, when those goals are looking more and more unlikely to be achieved this year.

Internal divisions in Europe are coming into the open. Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, for example, criticised Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair for pretending to be a 'know-all' in his pronouncements about the conflict.

The pressures of this war, in which civilians have suffered terribly and the main opposing forces have never even met on a battlefield, are testing many fixed assumptions.

One is the standing of Nato itself. In Bulgaria, Serbia's eastern neighbour, the government is giving practical help to Nato.

Yet opinion polls show many Bulgarians see the Serbs as victims of excessive Nato force and the public has grown noticeably cooler towards the idea of the country joining the alliance.

Another test is of the independence of the media. There is ample evidence that in Serbia freedom of expression has been largely stamped out by the state.

But in Nato countries, too, the media must report what they find out without fear or favour, to uphold the ideals of a free society.

When so much information about the conflict comes, as it is bound to do, from governments or Nato sources, that is much harder to achieve than in normal times.

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