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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops to Pursue War Crime Suspects

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO approved plans Friday to give international peacekeeping troops in Kosovo more powers to arrest indicted war criminals, the United Nations' chief war crimes prosecutor said.

Louise Arbour told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels that officials of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia were already in Kosovo under an agreement worked out by the UN court and NATO nations.

Forensic experts from Britain, the United States, Canada and France were due to start arriving in Kosovo over the weekend, she said. They will have the grim task of gathering evidence from dozens of alleged war crimes sites.

Arbour said she earlier met NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, before alliance ambassadors in the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's policy-making body, approved the new arrangements.

KFOR troops will take a "considerably more proactive stance in supporting the efforts of the tribunal, including if need be on apprehension issues," she said.

Arbour said that, as war crimes sites were uncovered, it could lead to more serious charges being filed against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian officials.

The war crimes tribunal, based in The Hague, Netherlands, last month indicted Milosevic and four senior aides on charges of crimes against humanity. But Arbour said prosecutors had never ruled out the possibility of filing charges under the international genocide convention.

"I don't think it's a secret that what is being uncovered on the ground [in Kosovo] is of a very troubling order of magnitude," she said.

In the light of the investigations, the prosecutor said, "we will examine whether it would be appropriate to upgrade some of the existing charges and bring more serious charges against these and other accused."

She said there was "every likelihood that more charges against more accused will be forthcoming."

KFOR's role in dealing with suspected war criminals, Arbour said, will be "considerably different" to that of the NATO-led force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has been criticized for not detaining Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic and others indicted for war crimes.

"It gives the tribunal a much stronger position than it has in Bosnia to carry out investigations," said Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who joined Arbour for Friday's news conference.

Arbour voiced hope that the mandate on war crimes suspects given to peacekeepers in Bosnia could be toughened in line with what she called the "much more appropriate" guidelines that had been set for Kosovo.

She said little could be done about war crimes suspects who might be escaping from the tribunal's grasp as Serbian forces pull out of Kosovo.

Arbour praised KFOR for its support so far, including by securing suspected massacre sites and providing transport to the tribunal's advance team in Kosovo.

Canadian Defense Minister Art Eggleton, who also attended the news conference, said contacts between KFOR and the tribunal will be assured by a liaison team of six to eight members.

Arbour declined to put a figure on the number of people believed killed by Serbian forces in Kosovo. The British government Thursday estimated 10,000 people had been slaughtered.

Until KFOR troops moved in last Saturday on the heels of withdrawing Serbian forces, the tribunal was refused entry to the province. The latest UN Security Council resolution on Kosovo gives the tribunal full access.

The UN refugee agency said Friday that it was vital that a stream of returning Kosovo refugees did not turn into a flood.

Dennis McNamara, Balkan envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, told journalists the agency was stepping up a drive to warn ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and Albania that it was not safe to go home. He said they must wait for international organizations to give them the green light.

The UNHCR was distributing some food, but its vehicles could not stray from the main roads because NATO had not removed all the land mines and booby traps left behind by retreating Serbian forces or the unexploded shells from the alliance's air campaign against Yugoslavia.

The UNHCR in Geneva said Friday that about 50,000 refugees had returned to Kosovo since KFOR peacekeepers entered the Serbian province last Saturday.

An estimated 800,000 ethnic Albanian refugees had fled to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.