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web posted February 14, 1999

Rights group says NATO killed 500 civilians in Yugoslavia

A human rights group has reported that last year's NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia killed about 500 civilians in 90 separate incidents. While the number of incidents was much higher than NATO has officially acknowledged, the Yugoslav government denounced the report on February 7, saying that NATO caused many more civilian deaths.

Human Rights Watch investigated the U.S.-dominated bombardment to end violence by Serb-led Yugoslav security personnel against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The New York-based international monitoring organization issued its findings after conducting a three-week inquiry in August.

The 79-page report, released February 6 in Washington, found no evidence of war crimes but concluded NATO violated international humanitarian law by not properly warning civilians and failing to identify them in road convoys and other bombing targets.

Alliance aircraft also attacked targets of questionable military value and used imprecise bombs near populated areas, Human Rights Watch charged.

"Despite the exclusive use of precision guided weapons in attacks on the capital, Belgrade experienced as many incidents of civilian deaths as any other city," the report said.

Nine incidents in which civilian deaths took place were the result of attacks on non-military targets, including one on the Belgrade headquarters of Serb television that killed 16 staffers, the report said.

"Yes, it was involved in propaganda but it wasn't inciting people in Kosovo, for example, to kill Kosovar Albanians. So in our estimation, it was not a legitimate military target," said Joost Hiltermann, executive director of the arms control unit of Human Rights Watch.

NATO, which made a public warning it might attack the television station, still insists it was fair game and that its attacks did not target civilians and were meticulously planned.

NATO and the Pentagon have estimated there were between 20 to 30 incidents where bombs or missiles caused unintended civilian deaths.

"We have found at least 90 cases," Hiltermann told CNN, "so there's already a bit of denial going on here."

NATO, which has expressed its regret for civilian casualties during the 11-week bombing campaign, has said it's impossible for it to give a solid estimate of the actual number.

A statement issued in Brussels, Belgium, by the alliance's Secretary-General Lord Robertson welcomed the report as "a further contribution to the public's understanding of the full consequences" of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's policies of ethnic cleansing and Balkan destabilization.

In Belgrade, the Yugoslav foreign ministry ridiculed the numbers turned up by Human Rights Watch as "unfounded." The Yugoslav government argues NATO was responsible for at least 1,200 civilian deaths and perhaps as many as 5,000.

"The facts gathered by the Yugoslav government have been presented to the world," foreign ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said Monday. He added there is a "tendency in the international community to increase ... the numbers of the ethnic Albanian victims while Serb casualties are diminished."

A Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, said last week that U.S. officials have not come up with a figure for either civilians or Yugoslav security forces killed in the air campaign.

Quigley acknowledged "unintentional civilian deaths" but said: "We tried very, very hard to minimize those numbers, and we think we did a very good job. But it wasn't perfect."

NATO has acknowledged "accidental" attacks, such as the May 8 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, which killed three Chinese journalists.

In another incident the same month, NATO said a cluster bomb dropped in an attack on an airfield by the southern Serbian town of Nis appeared to have missed its target and hit a civilian area.

Yugoslav officials put the death toll at 15, with 70 injured near a hospital and a market.

The report said as many as 150 civilians died in incidents involving cluster bombs until May 13, and that U.S. commanders that month issued an order for U.S. forces to stop using them.

"British forces continued using cluster bombs even after U.S. forces discontinued their use," it said.

Human Rights Watch called for an independent commission to review NATO's targeting doctrine.

Last June, the American Association of Jurists and other Western and Russian law experts alleged in a report to a special Balkans war crimes court in the Netherlands that the NATO air campaign violated international law by recklessly killing civilians.

The U.N. court's prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte of Switzerland, denied that a formal investigation of NATO was under way but said her staff had looked into the allegations.

Canadian soldier's body loaded with depleted uranium

Tests on the body of a Nova Scotia Gulf War veteran have turned up disturbing levels of depleted uranium in his bones, CBC Radio reported on February 7.

Joseph Terry Riordon died last year after suffering a series of illnesses that he believed were linked to the conflict.

His widow is calling on the Defence Department to fully investigate how the radioactive metal, used in weapons, affected the health of veterans.

Sue Riordon of Yarmouth, N.S., says the test results don't prove the uranium killed her husband, but they do raise serious questions.

Tissue samples from her husband's body were sent to a lab in the United States for analysis. The results were obtained by the CBC.

The military refused to comment on the Riordon case, but says a large body of scientific research says depleted uranium isn't the cause of illnesses suffered by vets.

The military released a report last year that said there's no such thing as Gulf War syndrome.

Reno met in Texas by Waco protesters

Attorney General Janet Reno fought off angry questions the night of February 7 from a small group of Branch Davidian supporters who labeled her the "Butcher of Waco."

Reno was visiting the University of Texas to lecture about community problem solving.

Led by Austin talk show host Alex Jones, fewer than a dozen protesters carried signs bashing Reno and the Clinton administration outside the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum before Reno's speech.

Jones labeled Reno the "Butcher of Waco" and the "Supreme Obstructer of Justice."

Reno never mentioned the Waco raid during her 45-minute speech, which touched on topics ranging from crime and education to technology and volunteerism.

During the question and answer session, Jones and others were heckled by the audience of several hundred as they asked Reno about the April 19, 1993, fire at the Davidian compound.

The blaze ended a 51-day standoff between Davidian leader David Koresh and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI. Some 80 followers died, some from the fire, others from gunshot wounds.

"Janet Reno has systematically suppressed evidence, covered up her wrongdoings, and engaged in dozens of other Byzantine practices," Jones said.

Reno refused to comment about most of the Waco-related questions, citing the investigation by former Sen. John Danforth, the independent counsel who is looking into whether federal personnel fired into the retreat as it burned to the ground.

Congress also continues to investigate.

"Yes, I owe an explanation to the American people and I have given it once, twice, a third time and I will continue to give it, but at the time now with Senator Danforth investigating I think I owe it to him to make sure that he can conduct this investigation in the appropriate way," Reno said.

Last week, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to throw out key parts of the wrongful-death lawsuit against the government over the Waco raid. The case, brought by surviving Davidians and relatives of those who died, is scheduled for trial in mid-May.

PQ wants to ban Canadian flags on public buildings

A Parti Quebecois resolution to ban Canadian flags from public buildings in Quebec has some people snapping to attention.

"There's no way," said Pierre Roy, a retired veteran in Quebec City who successfully lobbied to have the Maple Leaf returned to the flagpole outside the provincial capital's city hall. From the

"The Canadian flag is the flag of our country," Roy said February 7 from Quebec City. "There's no provincial government allowed to do such a thing. We'll go to the Supreme Court."

The resolution to only fly Quebec's Fleur-de-lis flag on buildings under provincial jurisdiction such as schools and hospitals was passed at a Parti Quebecois meeting on the weekend.

The resolution, which is not binding on the government, echoes comments made in September 1998 by ex-premier Jacques Parizeau, who complained there were too many Canadian flags fluttering over provincial institutions.

One of the PQ delegates who supported the motion to get rid of Canadian flags said: "What image do we send to new Quebecers?" Our schools, subsidized by the Quebec government, support Canadian federalism."

One delegate also asked that the Quebec government pay for the Fleur-de-lis, the provincial flag, to fly over public institutions.

Premier Lucien Bouchard said flying only the Quebec flag would be studied but hedged when asked his opinion on the matter.

"I don't want to get involved in flag issues and fights."

The resolution raised the ire of callers to a CBC radio phone-in show, with one referring to the PQ as "petty fascists" and "little clowns."

But Guy Bouthillier, president of the nationalist Societe St-Jean Baptiste, said people seeing a Maple Leaf waving over a school could be left with the impression that Ottawa and not Quebec has jurisdiction over such areas as education.

"Or at least that it's not sovereign in its domain," he said. "The privy council of London said precisely in 1883 that the provinces were sovereign in their domain."

At the Lester B. Pearson School Board -- named for the prime minister whose government brought in the flag in 1965 -- there were no plans to fold the Maple Leaf.

"I think we've got more important things to worry about," said chairman Marcus Tabachnick. "We're designated an English school board. We will fly our Canadian and Quebec flags as we always do. To me, it's a non-issue."

Roy, who took to the airwaves in Quebec City to urge people to flood their legislature members with calls of protest, said the resolution is a bid by separatists who are "at the end of their rope."

"They will do anything they can to make a fight," he said. "They feel they won't win the referendum and the next election."

Gov.-Gen. Adrienne Clarkson, who was giving out public service awards in Montreal, stiffened when the flap was raised with her.

"Personally, I love our flag," she said.

Hillary Clinton says abortion should be litmus test for Supreme Court

Hillary Rodham Clinton says that if she is elected to the Senate she would vote against anti-abortion judges who are nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I cannot imagine I would vote to confirm such a nominee," she said in a wide-ranging interview on February 7 with The Associated Press.

Clinton's presumed Republican opponent, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who is also an abortion rights supporter, has said he wouldn't rule out voting to confirm a judge who held anti-abortion views.

Clinton's interview came the day after she announced her Senate candidacy.

The first lady seemed focused -- in ways that haven't come across before -- on telling people who she is and what she stands for. In Buffalo, she repeatedly told audiences "I'll be on your side" and spoke constantly of her "more than 30 years" of working on issues related to children, education and health care.

Having lived in the shadow of her husband's presidency for seven years, Clinton said that like Vice President Al Gore, she must create an independent image to succeed as a candidate.

"I think the vice president had to say to himself, `Hey, I need to go out and tell my story. People don't know anything about me,"' Clinton said. "I learned the same thing."

For instance, her campaign literature and her banners routinely refer to her simply as "Hillary."

"It just seems like the easiest way for me to quickly be identified," she said. "There was an impression that I got that people were just unaware of how I had spent my life before the White House and that there was also a similar gap on awareness on what I had done in the White House."

The first lady told the AP that she did not know whether President Clinton might want to run again for elective office. There has been speculation that he might want to run for the Senate himself, perhaps from his home state of Arkansas.

"I don't say never to anything, but I think he's got lots of ideas about things he wants to do. He wants to remain very active in the public debate here in our country and around the world. ... But I don't know all that he would do in the future," she said.

Clinton sought to raise concerns about just how well the blunt-spoken Giuliani would do in the Senate.

"You can't show up in the Senate and demand that your 99 colleagues do what you tell them to do," she said. "You've got to be able to work with people one day who you may disagree with the next day."

But asked if she felt Giuliani had the wrong temperament for the Senate, she said: "That is a question that the people of New York will have to ask themselves. I think I would be a very good senator for New York."

Clinton also implied that Giuliani couldn't necessarily be counted on to maintain what has been his largely moderate record in New York.

"I've seen it time and time again -- people who claim to be independent, all of a sudden vote with the Republican leadership because if they don't, they don't get support raising funds for their campaigns, they don't get the committee assignments that they want," she said. "That's just the way that party operates."

She also picked up a plug from Gore, who was campaigning in New York City on Monday.

"Let's join together now to elect Hillary Rodham Clinton the next senator from New York," Gore told cheering union members. "Your voice will be heard and her vote will be cast for you."

The first lady also expressed a desire to have the independent counsel's office that has been looking into Whitewater affair and other allegations of impropriety against the Clintons wind up its work.

"I think that everyone would have expected that after 61/2 years, thousands upon thousands of documents and investigations and committee hearings, that they would have reached their conclusion and I would hope that they do in an efficacious manner," she said.

Nonetheless, Clinton said the ongoing probe still hanging over her and the president was not having an impact on her campaign.

"That has nothing to do with any of my campaign decisions or how I'm trying to present myself," she said.

Clinton also said that win or lose, she plans to maintain the roots she planted last month when she moved into the $1.7 million house she and the president purchased in Chappaqua in suburban Westchester County.

"I look forward to spending years in that house," she said.

Bush wins Delaware Republican primary

Texas Gov. George W. Bush inserted Delaware into his presidential election portfolio on February 8, with a comfortable win in the state's Republican primary.

With all precincts reporting, Bush had 51 percent of the vote. He was followed by Arizona Sen. John McCain, with 25 percent; publisher Steve Forbes with 20 percent and talk show host Alan Keyes with 4 percent.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. ET after a 13-hour voting day. Delaware's "winner take all" Republican primary format means Bush will take all 12 of the state's delegates to the party's national convention at the end of July.

The Bush camp considered a win in Delaware essential after the Texas governor's stunning loss the week before in New Hampshire.

McCain, who thumped Bush by a surprising 18-point margin in the New Hampshire primary, concentrated his campaigning efforts in South Carolina, which boasts a 400,000-strong population of military veterans and holds a pivotal Republican primary February 19.

Bush saw his lead in South Carolina slip significantly after New Hampshire, and opted to make a significant push in Delaware.

Prior to the closing down of the state's polls, the McCain camp held out hope for a miracle in Delaware, perhaps propelled by the extra media attention gained by the Vietnam-era fighter pilot and prisoner of war after the Granite State contest.

Early indications were that McCain would make a respectable showing. Told in South Carolina that voters were turning out to support him in Delaware, a surprised McCain said, "We never even went there. We didn't spend a penny there."

The fact that people would turn up in Delaware to cast their votes for him was "remarkable," McCain said.

Meanwhile, Forbes, who spent the most time in the state out of the four remaining Republicans, saw his hopes for a second win in Delaware dashed. The publisher, who is a resident of next-door New Jersey, won the Delaware Republican primary in 1996.

Forbes put a great deal of effort into Delaware, while many of his rivals moved to South Carolina after New Hampshire, and while Bush hopscotched between the Palmetto State and Delaware in the course of the last seven days.

Exit polls conducted throughout the state during the day indicated Bush received broad support from middle class, elderly and conservative voters, while McCain garnered support from the affluent and well-educated, as well as from voters who considered themselves to be "independent" and "moderate."

Earlier in the day, Bush slammed McCain, saying those who choose not to campaign in a state haven't earned the privilege of a vote.

"He's (McCain) not gaining ground here in Delaware. He didn't bother to come here and ask for your vote," Bush said in Wilmington.

"There's a nominating process in all 50 states and I take all 50 seriously," Bush said. "I don't think candidates should be picking and choosing."

Both Bush and Forbes made late pitches to senior citizens. The Texas governor urged members of a retirement community in Wilmington to "give me a chance to lead."

"I stand before you as a governor who led my state to managed (health) care reform. Some people in Washington say we can't get anything done because of all the lobbyists and special interests," Bush said, taking another jab at McCain. "That's somebody who doesn't understand how to lead."

Forbes stumped for votes at a Wilmington retirement home that also served as a polling place. He drew his loudest applause from the crowd of 60 seniors when he pledged to end the inheritance tax.

"You should be allowed to leave this world unmolested by the IRS," Forbes told the gathering.

Forbes quits race after placing third in Delaware

Following his third place finish in the Delaware Republican primary -- an election won by Texas Gov. George W. Bush -- publisher Steve Forbes withdrew from the presidential race.

This was the second consecutive failure for Forbes, who has spent tens of millions of dollars and nearly four years on the road in a self-financed bid for the White House. He burst on the political scene with a radical flat-tax proposal in 1996 and a series of negative ads that wounded eventual nominee Bob Dole. He failed to expand his base or organize in key states, and his candidacy failed.

Forbes began mounting a 2000 bid almost as soon as the 1996 campaign ended, shifting to the right on abortion and other social issues in an attempt to rally staunch conservatives.

Trump decides not to run for president

New York tycoon Donald Trump has decided against running for president, ending a lengthy flirtation with the notion that he could tap his personal fortune to capture the White House as a third-party candidate, The Associated Press reported February 13.

Sources connected with New York's Independence Party movement, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Trump has told associates he will announce on Valentine's Day that he is not mounting a presidential bid.

After months of speculation about a possible Reform Party campaign, Trump decided recently that the party is too fractured to support a credible presidential candidate, the officials said. The Reform Party operates in New York under the Independence Party banner.

He met over the weekend with advisers to consider a second option, running as an Independence Party candidate, but determined there is not enough time to get on state ballots. Trump considered that option out of respect for Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who had been the Reform Party's highest elected official before leaving the "dysfunctional" party last week to reinvigorate his state's Independence Party.

Ventura and Trump were allies during Reform Party squabbling that culminated on February 11 with the governor's departure and the ouster of a Ventura ally as party chairman.

A fractious Reform Party meeting Saturday in Tennessee returned power to allies of party founder Ross Perot, who has not ruled out running for president a third time.

Though he had not formally entered the race, Trump made a handful of campaign trips, hinted broadly for weeks that he would run and issued comprehensive health care and national debt reduction proposals. He held a single-digit ranking in most public polls, and was not given much of a chance of winning the presidency.

Trump estimates his personal net worth at $5 billion. Though independent analysis lead to lower estimates, there is no doubt he was wealthy enough to make inroads toward the Reform Party nomination.

His decision leaves former Republican Pat Buchanan as the front-running candidate for the Reform Party's nomination. Buchanan left the GOP after two failed presidential bids, eying the nearly $13 million in federal money that will be awarded Reform's nominee.

Many Perot allies encouraged Buchanan to bolt the GOP and join the Reform Party, in part because they hoped the conservative firebrand could help defy Ventura's wing of the party. With Ventura out of the way, Perot's allies are now speculating that the wealthy Texas businessman could seek the nomination himself.

Perot has not confirmed or denied the speculation.

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