20,000 explosive devices from unexploded NATO cluster bombs were scattered over Kosovo. Criticism is raised that cluster bombs kill more civilians in Kosovo than anti-personnel mines.
Cluster bombs explode over their target, spreading hundreds of explosive fragments over a wide area. These are activated by human contact, such as a tank’s caterpillar, a soldier’s boot or the hand of a child at play, mistaking the device for a Coca-Cola bottle.
Shocking data has surfaced about the use of cluster bombs by NATO in the campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999, in which 1,392 cluster bombs were dropped by the USAF and Royal Air Force, under the command of NATO.
Two and a half years later, most of these have been removed from the more frequented areas, but at a high cost for the civilian population: 47 dead and 97 wounded, according to the UN mine-clearing operation, MACC.
The leader of this operation, John Flanagan, said that “We found cluster bombs in incredible places”. The TMK (Kosovo Civil Protection Force, ex-KLA) will disactivate the remainder of the unexploded cluster bombs which fell in remote, but accessible, areas.
Apart from not exploding, many of these weapons were off-target, sometimes by as much as two or three kilometres. This raises the issue of how imprecise “precision weapons” are and also the legality of their deployment in modern warfare. The fact that the NATO aircraft flew at such high altitudes, to avoid strikes by anti-aircraft weaponry, compounded the problem. Worse of all was the practice of “dumping”. Basically, this means dropping unused bombs after a raid on a target, such as after being chased by enemy aircraft or forced to abandon the mission due to missile activity. The bombs are dropped at random, nowhere near the target, totally against the rules of engagement.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is in favour of a moratorium being imposed on cluster bombs because they cause so many civilian casualties. The ICRC also refutes the figures issued by MACC and claims that “hundreds” of civilians in Kosovo were the victims of cluster bombs.
Richard Lloyd, the director of a British anti-personnel mine campaign, declared that the bombing in Kosovo was against international law because it was “blind”.
Under the Geneva Convention, equipment deployed in the battlefield must not be lethally effective after a Peace Treaty has been signed. This is not the case and as such, NATO is guilty of war crimes. Other incidents which involved illegal activity by NATO aircraft was the incident in Nis, Serbia, in 1999, in which cluster bombs were dropped on a residential area, leaving 20 civilians dead.
In Kosovo, in May 1999, a bus carrying Albanian and Serb passengers was strafed by a NATO military aircraft. When the ambulances had arrived and first aid teams were working on the victims, another NATO aircraft dropped a cluster bomb on them. The result was 19 civilians killed. Towards the end of the same month, at Urosevac, 5 Albanian children were killed by an unexploded cluster bomb particle.
War is not an excuse to unleash wanton violence without rules of combat, rules of deployment and rules of engagement. That is what the Geneva Convention is for. NATO disrespected it, and broke the Convention. The difference is that Slobodan Milosevic is in court, albeit held illegally after an act of international kidnapping.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru LISBON PORTUGAL