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Conference in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia

International panel hears indictment of U.S. and NATO for war crimes

By Richard Becker

Novi Sad, Yugoslavia

The International Symposium on NATO Aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia met in this city Oct. 15-16, and leveled a powerful and detailed indictment against the leaders of the imperialist alliance.

Yugoslav and international experts and activists delivered 60 papers alleging that the U.S. and other NATO governments committed massive violations of international and criminal law. The papers covered U.S.-NATO's deliberate targeting of facilities vital to civilian life, widespread ecological destruction, children as victims of aggression, denial of the rights of national minorities, damage to health care and educational facilities, and crimes against peace. The most grievous crime was the planning and carrying out of a war of aggression against Yugoslavia.

Among the speakers were members of the academic community, international law experts, military analysts, government officials and community activists. International presenters included representatives from Russia, Greece, Holland, Germany, Italy, Canada, France and Belgium.

The United States was represented by a four-person delegation from the International Action Center.

The symposium was hosted by the Association for Legal Theory and Practice and the Assembly of Vojvodina, and held in the assembly chambers.

Novi Sad is the capital of Vojvodina province, an autonomous region of Serbia. This beautiful city of 150,000 people was hard-hit by NATO bombs. All three of its historic bridges across the Danube River were destroyed. Today their ruins block all commerce on the Danube waterway, the most important route of commerce in eastern and central Europe.

The destruction of the bridges caused great anguish and anger to the people of Novi Sad. The bridges had no military significance for the conflict in far-off Kosovo. Vojvodina is the northernmost region of Yugoslavia and Kosovo is the southernmost.

A student translator, Maja, told delegates visiting the site that she and other residents "feel like we have lost something very dear to us, almost like losing a member of our family. And it causes great hardship for the 45,000 people who live across from the center of the city."

The bridges carried vital gas, water, phone and electrical installations in addition to people and vehicles.

Yugoslavia's refineries targeted
for destruction

Delegates toured the huge and nearly destroyed NAFTE gas and oil refinery on the outskirts of Novi Sad. It had been bombed repeatedly, creating an environmental disaster as well as depriving the people of the region of their main source of heating oil.

U.S.-NATO headquarters had targeted all of Yugoslavia's refineries for destruction.

Yugoslav health officials have issued warnings advising women to avoid pregnancy for the next two years in most of Serbia. The danger comes from high levels of toxic metals and other mutagens and carcinogens released by NATO's bombing of refineries, chemical plants and other facilities containing dangerous materials.

Several papers were presented on deliberate ecological damage, or "ecocide," as some referred to it. A Dr. Skoric, whose presentation was entitled "NATO Aggression and Ecological Catastrophe," documented the bombing of Pancevo, a major chemical and refining center.

Skoric pointed out that long after the industries were completely disabled and no longer functional, U.S.-NATO planes bombed them repeatedly, intensifying "the exposure of the civilian population to metals and other toxic and cancer-causing agents. There was no other answer to the question of why the bombing continued. That's why we call it genocidal."

Several presenters pointed out that air and water pollution caused by the NATO bombing and use of illegal weaponry like depleted uranium shells was not limited to the territory of Yugoslavia alone, but affected neighboring countries as well.

The same is true of the aftermath of bombing the Danube bridges. Hundreds of ships from Rumania, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Germany and other countries are stranded on the river.

Participants in the symposium could feel the approach of winter in the air. Temperatures in Yugoslavia frequently dip to below zero in a climate similar to that of the northeastern U.S. Yet just before the conference, President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced U.S. opposition to the sending of emergency heating oil supplies to the country.

Washington wants Yugoslavs
to freeze

The stated reason, according to U.S. media reports, was to increase "discomfort" among the population in hopes that this would lead to an uprising against the government of President Slobodan Milosevic.

"Discomfort" in this context is a euphemism for "freezing." And this from U.S. leaders who claim the war was fought to defend "human rights."

The international guests also visited a gutted complex that used to be TV Novi Sad. A huge, twisted television tower lay alongside several completely destroyed buildings. The site had been struck with many cruise missiles and bombs.

Vojvodina is a region with no majority nationality. The largest population groups are Hungarian and Serbian, but, as Chair of the Assembly Zivorad Smiljanic explained in the opening reception, more than 20 nationalities and national minorities live in the province. TV Novi Sad featured regular programming for the national minorities.

The president of the organizing board of the symposium, Dusan Latinovic, pointed out that the NATO destruction of TV Novi Sad "deprived members of national minorities of their right to receive information in their native languages."

In his opening report, Latinovic also documented the destruction or damaging of 26 elementary and 14 secondary schools, many historical and cultural sites, sports facilities, and 82 enterprises, causing the loss of thousands of jobs, in Vojvodina alone. The sanctions first imposed on Yugoslavia by the European Union during the war have also damaged the economy and led to further job losses.

U.S. and other NATO leaders have attempted to justify their decade-long policies of war, sanctions and dismemberment of Yugoslavia by citing "humanitarian" concerns. Their conduct of the war, as seen in the destruction caused in Novi Sad, exposes the fact that this has been nothing but war propaganda. So, too, does another important and undeniable fact.

U.S.-endorsed `ethnic cleansing'

The imperialist leaders have pretended to be moved by concern over the plight of certain national groups in Yugoslavia since 1992. But today, in all those parts of the former Yugoslavia that were forcibly broken off from the old federation, there has been near-total "ethnic cleansing."

Nearly all of the Serbian population was driven out of Croatia; Slovenia is said to be 98-percent Slovenian; Bosnia is divided into separate Bosnian Muslim, Croatian and Serbian regions; in Kosovo, under NATO occupation, the KLA fascists have driven out hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Roma, Egyptians and anti-chauvinist Albanians.

Today, it is Yugoslavia--including the Republic of Montenegro, Vojvodina and Serbia proper--which remains the only truly multinational state. It also remains the target of U.S. and NATO aggression.

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