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Yugoslavia Must Investigate War Crimes Now

Human Rights Watch called on the Yugoslav Army to implement immediately its stated commitment, made yesterday, to investigate war crimes committed against ethnic Albanians during last year's war in Kosovo.

"The authorities in Belgrade should fulfill their legal obligations to identify and prosecute war criminals, rather than penalize those who remind them of that obligation," said Rachel Denber, Acting Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "Human Rights Watch stands ready to provide any genuine investigative body with its overwhelming evidence of war crimes in Kosovo." Human Rights Watch was reacting to an exchange of public letters between the Yugoslav Army and Natasa Kandic, a leading Yugoslav human rights activist. Kandic, director of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center, argued that perpetrators of war crimes should be punished regardless of their ethnicity.

An army response published yesterday threatened Kandic with "legally defined consequences" if her allegations of government atrocities are not "substantiated." But for the first time since the war, the army also expressed a willingness to investigate allegations of war crimes. Kandic's purported evidence would be "an important source of information to help bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice," the army's letter said.

On July 26, a closed-door Yugoslav military court sentenced Serbian journalist Miroslav Filipovic to seven years in prison for publishing articles on the Internet about crimes against Kosovar Albanians. Prominent members of the Serbian Orthodox Church have publicly condemned the security forces for crimes during the NATO war, but no church officials have faced legal threats or action.

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