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The BBC's Paul Wood
"Serbia has yet to make a complete break with the past"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Kostunica admits Kosovo guilt
Serbian APC
Before they left Kosovo, Serbian soldiers had been active
Yugoslavia's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, has acknowledged for the first time that the Serbian army and police force carried out large-scale killings in Kosovo last year.

The admission is in contrast to former President Slobodan Milosevic's insistence that the West was to blame for stirring up ethnic conflict.

Vojislav Kostunica
Kostunica: Ready to accept guilt
It is the first time that any Yugoslav leader has accepted responsibility and expressed regret for any of the conflicts in the Balkans over the past decade.

"I am ready to... accept the guilt for all those people who have been killed," Mr Kostunica said.

"For what Milosevic had done, and as a Serb, I will take responsibility for many of these crimes."

In the interview, to be screened on the US network CBS News, Mr Kostunica said that Serbs, as well as ethnic Albanians, had suffered.

"I must say also there are a lot of crimes on the other side and the Serbs have been killed," he said.

Crackdown

Former President Milosevic launched a crackdown on ethnic Albanian nationalists in Kosovo in 1998. Thousands of ethnic Albanian civilians were killed and tens of thousands of others fled their homes and the country.

Mr Milosevic has been charged by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague for atrocities committed in Kosovo.

Serbian police
Serbian police were part of a crackdown against ethnic Albanians
Since coming to power, President Kostunica has not taken action to arrest his predecessor, because, he said, there were "too many things to be done at this moment, too many priorities.

"Before anything else we are in need of democracy being consolidated in this country. By opening the questions of The Hague, that democracy may be put into question."

President Kostunica has in the past questioned the legitimacy of the court, saying it was a Western political institution.

Asked by CBS whether he thought Mr Milosevic would ever stand trial, President Kostunica replied: "Somewhere, yes."

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See also:

21 Mar 00 | Europe
Nato chief seeks Kosovo tolerance
21 Sep 00 | Europe
The Kosovo factor
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