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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yugoslavia Urges Court To Put Stop To Airstrikes




THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- As NATO missiles and bombs continued to pound Yugoslavia, Belgrade on Monday accused the alliance of genocide and appealed to the United Nations' highest court to halt the punishing airstrikes.


In hearings expected to last at least two days, Yugoslavia and the 10 NATO allies involved in the bombing began fighting out a complex legal battle in the World Court's oak-paneled Great Hall of Justice on whether the court should grant Belgrade's request.


"The acts of bombing of the territory of Yugoslavia are not just illegal acts,'' Yugoslav representative Rodoljub Etinski told the court. "They constitute a crime against peace and also the crime of genocide.''


Etinski insisted that Yugoslavia's crackdown in Kosovo was an operation aimed at suppressing terrorism and that the allies had no right to intervene in an internal conflict.


The court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, is expected to rule within weeks on whether to call a halt to the bombings.


Deliberations on the main body of the case f in which Belgrade argues that NATO broke international law when it resorted to force in an attempt to end fighting in Kosovo f could take years.


Yugoslavia accused the allies of genocide against the Yugoslav people, claiming NATO is endangering the entire population with pollution caused by attacks on oil refineries and chemical plants.


Etinski also claimed NATO is using internationally banned weapons f cluster bombs and bombs containing depleted uranium f and is arming and training a terrorist group, the Kosovo Liberation Army.


"By killing people, by murdering children ? by destroying a whole nation, they want to protect a part of that population, one of its numerous ethnic minorities,'' Etinski said.


Belgium f the first NATO member to take the stand f was presenting its case Monday afternoon. It was expected to reiterate NATO's assertion that it never deliberately targets civilians. It will also likely argue the court has no jurisdiction to order a stop to airstrikes.


Even if the court does tell NATO to stop bombing, there's no guarantee the alliance will listen.


If the alliance ignores a court order to stop, Belgrade can only report it to the UN Security Council f a body dominated by NATO members.


Experts do not believe the 15-judge court will go as far as explicitly ordering a halt to the NATO bombing."


"I think the court will call upon all the states to abide by international law,'' said Andre Nollkaemper, a professor of international law at Amsterdam University. "It's clear that NATO is on very difficult legal ground when it comes to justifying its airstrikes.''


The United States will present its case Tuesday. Yugoslav representatives had two hours to present their case early Monday. Each NATO member was given one hour to argue its side.


When NATO began airstrikes against Yugoslavia on March 24 in an effort to stop Belgrade's purge of ethnic Albanians from the southern province of Kosovo, it did so without waiting for a Security Council resolution granting it the right to use force. That has led many international law experts to question the legality of NATO's campaign.