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Ex-Dutch PM Denies Influencing Targeting Decisions During Yugo War - 2004-01-26

Former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok told a district court in the Hague Monday that his government had no influence over specific targeting during NATO's 1999 bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia. The former prime minister and some of his former cabinet members are being questioned in a civil lawsuit filed by relatives of several people killed in some of the bombings.

Mr. Kok told the court that although the deaths of the civilians are regrettable, it was NATO, not the Netherlands, which chose the targets during the alliance's bombing of Serbia five years ago.

More than a dozen victims and relatives of victims, represented by a Dutch lawyer, are seeking compensation from the Netherlands, because it is a NATO member, for what they say were illegal attacks on civilian targets during Mr. Kok's term in office.

Those targets included Belgrade's RTS television station and the area around a marketplace in the Serbian the city of Nis, which was hit by cluster bombs in what Mr. Kok called a technical error.

His former foreign minister, Jozias van Aartsen, also defended NATO's actions. He said the attack on the TV station, which had been warned ahead of time that it would be hit, was justifiable because it was a key element in Serbian propaganda.

As for cluster weapons, which spread many small explosives across their target area, both men pointed out that they are not banned weapons.

The NATO alliance waged a 78 day bombing campaign against Serbian forces under then-president Slobodan Milosevic, to force him out of the southern province of Kosovo. Mr. Milosevic is now on trial, in part for thousands of murders there and the large-scale ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian population.

NATO has always defended its actions, saying it chose its targets meticulously and never intended to hit civilians.

There have been lawsuits in other countries about the legality of NATO's bombing campaign. None have been successful.