Robinson anger over snub by Milosevic

President Slobodan Milosevic yesterday snubbed the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs Mary Robinson, by refusing to meet …

President Slobodan Milosevic yesterday snubbed the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs Mary Robinson, by refusing to meet her despite assurances to her that such a meeting was likely to occur during her fact-finding mission to Belgrade.

Instead, Mrs Robinson met the Foreign Minister, Mr Zivadin Jovanovic, in Belgrade as previously scheduled in the morning. That meeting stretched out until it became apparent that Mr Milosevic would not be joining them. Mrs Robinson, who has been touring the region since May 2nd, was described as angry at the snub.

Mr Jovanovic reported that 1,200 Yugoslavs had been killed in the NATO bombing raids to date, and some 5,000 injured, Mrs Robinson said afterwards. While NATO has described its attacks on Yugoslavia as successful in weakening Serbian military forces, no figures have been released here about casualties. Obituaries of army personnel, which early in the campaign were running in the local media, are no longer being published.

Mrs Robinson said the purpose of her trip to the region, which included visits to refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia, as well as visits to Yugoslavia, was to speak with Kosovan refugees, examine bomb damage, and talk with Serbs who have been experiencing daily bombing for more than 50 days.

"There must be accountability," said Mrs Robinson. "Those who are responsible for human rights violations must bear responsibility. I wanted to bear direct witness."

She rejected criticisms of her visit by Human Rights Watch, who said before her arrival that Mr Milosevic would use it as a publicity stunt. "I shall do my best not to be used. I feel it is important to raise concerns about issues of legality and proportionality," she said.

She condemned the "vicious human rights violations" she says have been committed by the Yugoslav authorities.

While Mrs Robinson was examining the wreckage at the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslav authorities brought foreign reporters to witness a convoy of military vehicles leaving Kosovo, proof, said the authorities, that the promised troop withdrawal from the province was occurring. The NATO spokesman, Dr Jamie Shea, rejected Yugoslavia's representation.

"It's the easiest thing in the world to put a few tanks on the border, invite a TV crew and say, `Look, I'm withdrawing,' and as soon as the TV crew goes back to Belgrade, the tanks just go back over the border," he said.

Foreign reporters taken to Merdare saw the convoy leave Kosovo, and a Serb army officer there blamed constant NATO bombing for the "slow pace" of withdrawals since Yugoslavia announced a partial pullout had been ordered on Sunday.

The commander of the Pristina army corps, Gen Vladimir Lazarevic, told reporters brought to the scene, 130 miles south of Belgrade, that "a certain amount of time" would be needed to bring the forces back to their barracks as ordered.

NATO meanwhile, continued its attacks throughout the country yesterday, although Belgrade was relatively quiet. In Novi Sad, Yugoslavia's second largest city, the Serb TV station was hit. In the Kosovo capital of Pristina, the Serb Media Centre said missiles rained down near the train station at Prizren, Kosovo's second biggest city, setting surrounding buildings ablaze.