War in The Balkans
Truth may prove most useful propaganda
[British] The Independent,
15 April 1999
in war, the first casualty - just occasionally - need not be the truth.
Sometimes, indeed, there is no alternative to the truth. That was the lesson
of Nato's bombing of the Serb train
on Monday in which 10 [actually 27] civilians died.
Assuming allied planes were
mistakenly responsible for yesterday's far deadlier attack on a refugee
convoy in southern Kosovo, the lesson will be even more bitter.
In this war, as in every war,
propaganda is a vital weapon. It is vital
for the Western democracies, where strategies ultimately depend on public
opinion - but it is also vital for Belgrade. By fast public relations footwork,
Nato has neutralised the train disaster. If confirmed, the slaughter of
refugees - 70 ethnic Albanians, according to the Serbs - will be far harder
to cope with.
Convince the public the cause
is just, liken the enemy to Hitler, sanitise every nastiness perpetrated
by your side, and claim you are firmly on the way to victory - these are
the rules of the game. Both sides have been faithfully playing them. Until
the train on the bridge at Leskovac.
The affair could have been
a PR disaster, proof of how the allies in their frustration at their failure
to land a knockout blow to the Milosevic military machine were sinking
to terror bombing of helpless civilians. Prevarication, or pretending
the train was a legitimate military target, would have made matters even
Instead, we witnessed a rare
and deliberate show of honesty. It was an "unfortunate
accident. We are all very sorry for it," Nato's supreme commander,
General Wesley Clark, said as the press was shown a full cockpit video
of the incident. The pilot, it transpired, had fired not one bomb, but
two; the second after he knew he had hit a train. Quite why that second
attack happened is unclear. But we basically know what happened, and few
more questions need to be asked. If allied planes hit the refugee
convoy near Djakovica [Kosovo], we must brace for a far more harrowing
mea culpa from Nato - and, conceivably, a sea change in public attitudes
to the air war...
Nato, of course, propagates
its... brand of wishful thinking. Early on, we were told of Kosovo Albanian
leaders who had been murdered. It transpired they had not and Nato, admittedly,
retracted the claim. On Sunday, its spokesmen were claiming to detect fissures
in the Yugoslav army's high command over President Milosevic's policy in
Kosovo. The next day, despite every sign that the war is solidifying support
for Milosevic, the Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, was
virtually predicting a coup.
But these are small errors,
set against the giant shadow cast over everything the allies say by the
miscalculation with which the war started. A few days, they said, just
a handful of cruise missiles, before the dictator came to his senses.
always knew this would be a long haul," Nato now
insists. If so, then everything it implied, if not said aloud, before 24
March was nonsense. But did not World
War One begin with the blithe conviction the boys would be home for
So far, Western public opinion
doubts about the air war strategy have been submerged by the flood of [fabricated]
horror stories of pillage, rape and murder committed by the Serbs. But
these stories, too, could in turn be submerged by the horror of what apparently
happened near the Kosovo town of Djakovica.
For the Serbs, the carnage
was a propaganda coup [?]: a "crime against humanity" according
to the Foreign Ministry in Belgrade - exactly the language used by Nato
leaders to describe Mr Milosevic's tactics.
The attack strikes at the
heart of the weakness of Nato's presentation of the war - not lies over
daily events, but the fog of confusion and contradictions surrounding the
war's ends. Suddenly Kosovo is acquiring the reek
"We will win the war,"
say Blair, Clinton et al, day after successive day of bombing targets that
never seem to be destroyed the first time around. Ah, but the bombing is
working, they insist, only to order another 300 aircraft to finish the
job - and risk more disasters similar to yesterday's. Defying, if not the
truth, at least elementary common sense, they cling to the Rambouillet
formula that Kosovo remains part of Yugoslavia even after the war...
War in The Balkans -
The civilians pay in blood
[British] The Independent,
15 April 1999
Blood is beginning to spatter
Nato's campaign in Yugoslavia. Just under two weeks ago, it was the blood
of 26 Serb civilians in the town of Aleksinac. Then on Monday, it was the
blood of 27 Serb passengers - the latest figure for fatalities - on a railway
train bombed by a Nato jet.
Yesterday, up to 60
Kosovo Albanian refugees were reported torn to pieces by Nato bombs
in Kosovo. That phrase "collateral damage"
is beginning to sound ever more obscene.
Needless to say, the Serb
government is happy [???] to publicise these atrocities - just as Nato
is ready and willing [and happy!?] to report every atrocity committed by
Serb forces in Kosovo. But Nato's new ground rules are playing into Serbian
it is becoming clearer that somewhere - in Washington, perhaps, or Brussels
or the Aviano air base in Italy - someone has decided that Serb civilians
must suffer for their country's [fabricated] sins. Or that their
lives can now be regarded as forfeit if they live near a barracks or an
airfield or happen to be on a passenger train.
The Serb authorities - who
denied the stories told by thousands of Albanian refugees of "ethnic
cleansing" at the hands of Serb forces - were quite specific in their
description of the slaughter of as many as 75 Albanian refugees, first
near the village of Medjan, at 1.30pm, then at Bistrazin at 3pm. The Kosovo
Albanians were travelling in cars and tractors, "escorted" by
at least three Serb policemen. The policemen were also killed.
Did Nato believe these were
Serbs driving down the roads of southern Kosovo? Or did they see military
traffic and decide - as they did when they bombed a barracks 50 metres
from a Belgrade hospital on Tuesday - that the risk of harming civilians
was worth taking? That now seems to be Nato's policy in its bombardment
Clark, the general who thought he could fight a war without ground troops,
gave a deeply unsettling performance this week when he tried to explain
the train massacre.
The pilot saw the train enter
his bomb frame only at the last second, he said. But then - incredibly,
knowing the train was there - he returned to fire two more missiles at
the railway bridge.
Milosevic Responsible For All Casualties
Press Association, 14 April 1999
Prime Minister Tony Blair has insisted that Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic bears full responsibility for any
casualties in the Kosovo conflict.
He said nothing emerging from
the Serbian propaganda machine could be taken at face value, but even
if refugees had been accidentally killed by Nato's air campaign, responsibility
rested with the Serb leadership.
Mr Blair was speaking at the
end of an emergency meeting of EU leaders in Brussels which, he said, had
produced unanimous agreement that military attacks must carry on until
all Nato's five demands are met.
The Prime Minister said the
EU member states - all but four of which are also Nato members - were determined
to beat Milosevic. "We are determined to defeat his policy of ethnic
cleansing and determined that it should be seen to be defeated - and Milosevic
along with it."
News of the air raid which
reportedly killed dozens of Kosovo-Albanian refugees came in as the EU
leaders were meeting to reaffirm Western unity over the military strategy.
Mr Blair commented: "We
cannot take at face value any claim made by the Serb authorities, and anything
they do they use for propaganda purposes.
"We go to extraordinary
lengths to limit any civilian damage or casualties at all. Secondly, I
would say to you that the responsibility for anything that happens to people
in this conflict rests with Milosevic. He is the
person who has brought this Nato action upon himself.
He is the person responsible for causing this conflict by the appalling
and evil policy of ethnic cleansing."
The Prime Minister emphasised:
"We take every single measure we can to try to avoid civilian casualties.
Unfortunately in a situation like this sometimes it happens, though as
I say I wouldn't believe or take at face value anything the Serb authorities
Mr Blair said all EU leaders
were agreed there can be no compromise on Nato's five principles, including
the total withdrawal from Kosovo of all Serb forces and the unconditional
return to their homeland of the refugees, under the protection of an international
security force led by Nato.
"We are united behind
those principles and we shall see them through," said Mr Blair.
Should the deaths of 10 civilian
train passengers lead to a rethinking of the Nato bombing strategy?
Guardian, 14 April 1999
Mahon, Labour MP for Halifax and chairman of the Committee for Peace in
I certainly think it should. It is not just this 10 who have died. There
have been over 300 civilian deaths, many of them women and children. These
are not the targets that Nato is supposed to be after.
world's first "humanitarian" war has turned into a huge humanitarian
disaster. What is humanitarian about the bombing
of civilians on passenger trains, or car workers trying to protect their
jobs by sitting-in, or by dropping cluster
bombs and munitions containing radioactive depleted
uranium which will ensure that thousands of the country's children
Serbs and Albanians alike will suffer from disease and malnutrition long
after the war is over?
think that Nato can call this a successful campaign when the Kosovans have
lost their country and the Serb population carries terrified children and
elderly people into cellars night after night.
clear that Nato is intent on bombing roads, water facilities, electricity
stations and factories, and a massive destruction of infrastructure. It
becomes clear that a European country is being bombed into the stone age
in front of our eyes.
only hope rests on getting some sanity into international affairs, getting
the UN and the Russians involved, getting the tragic refugees home, and
to stop bombing an innocent population, many of whom were marching in their
thousands against Milosevic and are now behind him.
negotiation, compromise will end this madness. Not bombing.
Pilger, war correspondent and film-maker
Robertson claims he and Tony Blair approve every target. So who approved
the bombing of a civilian railway bridge? Who
approved the bombing of the Zastava car factory when Nato knew there were
10,000 protesters inside? Who approved the
bombing of the centre of Pristina in Kosovo and the entirely civilian town
of Novi Sad and the mining town of Aleksinac?
children of the woman lying beneath the rubble would like to know, Secretary
of State. And the parents of the Kosovan babies who will be born deformed
or with leukaemia, will want to know why 'our' pilots are using depleted
uranium missiles when you claim to be bombing in order to save them.
people are expendable. They are 'collateral damage' which is a craven term
invented by the Americans to disguise the slaughter in Vietnam.
Robertson and Blair and Cook are not telling the British public is that
the same US military that 'degraded' two million Vietnamese, mostly people
they, too, claimed to be protecting, are about to do something similar
to Serbia and Kosovo unless civilised voices are heard loud and clear and
that this is the shape of wars to come.
attack on Serbia has nothing to do with humanitarian help and everything
to do with Nato demonstrating its power by disciplining an uppity tyrant
who didn't obey orders. Inexcusably, that truth has been the first casualty.
(End of quote).