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An Interview with Gen. Wesley Clark

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark is the former Supreme Allied Commander (NATO) who directed the war in Kosovo against Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Tuesday from Little Rock, Arkansas.

GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: What is the significance of the trial against Milosevic, which has just opened in the Hague?

CLARK: This marks the most important stage so far, a historic step forward really, in establishing the international rule of law. It is a very significant event because, for the first time, a head of state is standing trial because of the activities of his armies and in response to a finding of the United Nations that set up the Tribunal. I have been called as a witness at the trial and will testify.

GV: Despite all the criticism of the bombing campaign you waged against Serbia, do you find the fact that Milosevic is finally standing trial part of your victory?

CLARK: Milosevic was indicted during the course of the NATO campaign. NATO had nothing to do with the indictment whatsoever. It wasn't our idea. We didn't suggest it. It came from evidence collected independently by the prosecutor, Carla del Ponte. She alone made the decision to indict Milosevic.

The objective of our campaign was to stop ethnic cleansing and to restore the opportunity of the refugees who had been forced out of their homes to return. That has not been totally accomplished yet. We did block the Serb ethic cleansing. Meaningful democratic structures in Kosovo are also yet to be established. And bringing all people back together, regardless of ethnicity or religious belief, has also yet to be accomplished.

GV: Why are you being called to testify?

CLARK: I spent probably several hundred hours with Milosevic from 1995 to the end of the NATO campaign over Kosovo. My last meeting was on January 20, 1999, to ask him to shape up and stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. The actual warning in the end, that we would begin bombing Serbia, came from Richard Holbrooke.

GV: What is your personal impression of this man who resisted NATO and now is sitting, indicted, in the dock?

CLARK: Milsosevic is a bright man. It is a tragedy that he chose the path he did for himself and his country. Whether he is guilty or not is something the court must determine in the Hague. I am only a witness.

In my recent book, "Waging Modern War,'' I recounted some of my conversations with him. Two conversations come to mind. One, from the period around the 8th of September 1997, when there was trouble in Bosnia. I was called by the president of Serbia, and Milosevic was with him then as president of Yugoslavia. They asked me to protect their people, who were involved with some of the worst of the Bosnian Serb thugs. When I asked, "What were you people doing there?'' he said, "They are businessmen.'' It was such an absurd answer, it was hard to grant any credibility to their answer. To me, this indicated his degree of reach, even into Bosnia.

Another conversation involved the time he told me that he knew how to handle these "Albanian terrorists, murderers, killers.'' He said Serbia had done it before -- they had killed them all. He said it with such force and conviction that it was chilling.

GV: Milosevic's defense over his Kosovo actions is that he was fighting terrorists. In the post-September 11 atmosphere, does that have any resonance?

CLARK: What we saw were campaigns directed against people who were not armed, who were not terrorists. He was going after his own population. Again, as I explained in my book, I said to Milosevic, "Find a way to make your generals cooperative, and get all those excess forces out of Kosovo.'' Milsosevic said, "OK, I will gather them and see what can be done.''

The Serb military and police generals gathered in another room, and a map was brought in. The overall police commander talked me through the map, pointing out to me the exact location of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) soldiers. I added the total and it came to 410. So I said, "You are going to destroy this province to capture 410 people, in the process generating 4,000 more people who hate you enough to fight? It just doesn't make sense.''

"We were within two weeks of killing them all when you stopped us,'' he said. "Why did you stop us?''

I said, "Because your were targeting the civilian population and creating a humanitarian catastrophe for your own people. Don't you understand, you can't stop something like this by using force, especially against civilians.''

But they didn't.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint/NPQ. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 2/12/02)