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source: New Statesman May 30 1999

What really happened at Rambouillet? And what else is being kept under wraps by our selective media?

By John Pilger

As Nato announces another "heaviest night yet" of bombing, with paralysed hospital patients among the latest victims, the truth of how and why the war began remains elusive. Nato disinformation has been largely successful. The complete list of targets hit has yet to be published in Britain. It shows clearly a pattern of civilian destruction: the Dragisa Misovic clinic in Belgrade was the 19th hospital to be destroyed, together with more than 200 schools and colleges, housing estates, farms, food-processing plants, water reservoirs, theatres, cinemas, museums, churches, monasteries and archaeological sites.

The Rambouillet accords, Nato's justification for the bombing, also remain unpublished, except on the Internet. The sequence of events around Rambouillet is revealing. Although the conference ran for six weeks, the Yugoslav delegation and the Kosovars never actually met. The Contact Group - the governments of the US, Britain, Germany, Italy and France - were the instigators and managers of the conference, as well as the western media's principal informants.

The "fact sheet" released by the US State Department, entitled Understanding the Rambouillet Accords, refers only to the political structure planned for the province. The Foreign Office dispensed a similar message through diplomatic correspondents: that a reasonable political solution was on offer, not a pretext for military assault. At the end of February, the Serbs agreed to most of the autonomy proposals, and Robin Cook boasted to MPs of agreement on "90 per cent" of the document.

It was the Kosovars who refused to sign. When they eventually agreed, the complete text of the accords was subjected to extraordinary secrecy, with the Contact Group saying that they had agreed to remain silent. Why? On the last day, 22 March, the Serbs were presented with "Appendix B", from which I quoted in the New Statesman on 17 May. This demands Nato's right of "unrestricted passage and unimpeded access through the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including associated air space and territorial waters", along with immunity from "all legal process", including the criminal law, and control over "all telecommunications services, including broadcast services".

This was not a political proposal, but an impossible ultimatum. It meant the effective occupation of all of Yugoslavia. The German newspaper Berliner Zeitung described it as "a surrender treaty following a lost war". Two days later, the bombing began.

Nato's supporters say that these conditions are no different from those of the Dayton agreement, which Milosevic signed. On the contrary, the Dayton accords concentrate on transit rights, whereas the Rambouillet appendices spell de facto control of Yugoslavia, even demanding, unlike Dayton, that Nato personnel be immune from its criminal law. In any case, the partition of Bosnia was a very different situation, in which Milosevic was effectively the west's facilitator, lauded by the US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, as "a man we can do business with, a man who understands the realities of Yugoslavia".

Few Nato politicians who bear responsibility for launching the war knew anything about this. Without reading the full text of the ultimatum, they accepted Nato's disinformation, directed as much at them as at the general public. Two of the most senior officials in the German foreign ministry were reported as "completely surprised" by the appendices, which they described as "completely new" to them. The day the bombing began, the Yugoslav parliament, in rejecting the Nato ultimatum, proposed a UN monitoring force in Kosovo. This went unreported.

It is often asked why the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has not spoken against the illegality of the Nato action. He has. On 15 May, he told a peace conference in The Hague that the use of force "must be under the authority of the United Nations". His remarks ought to have been front-page news, but the conference was not reported.

From the beginning, there has been a kind of virtual truth about the bombing and its causes, with the strange spectacle of journalists egging on the moralising aggressiveness of the Prime Minister, rather than scrutinising the actions and agendas of his government and its allies. The evidence of recent history has been excluded. When has morality ever played a part in British foreign policy? Ask the 10,000 Cypriots who marched on a British military base on Cyprus last week, calling for an end to the bombing. Under the terms of Cypriot decolonisation, Britain, Greece and Turkey were the guarantors of the island's independence, but all three betrayed it when Turkey, a Nato member, invaded in 1974 and Britain did nothing.

It seems to me that a vital wider question has yet to be asked: is Nato really bombing Yugoslavia, or is the bombing aimed at the emerging European superstate, which offers a clear threat to the US as a new economic superpower? Who will pay the huge inflationary bill for rebuilding what was Yugoslavia? The EU is the answer. A crusade for "human rights" can provide a new cloak for a project as old as imperialism itself.

Milosevic and his vicious gang should answer for the crimes against humanity being committed with their cynical approval and patronage, from Bosnia to Kosovo - and so should all the other gangs, notably the most powerful of all, the one currently raining cluster bombs and depleted uranium on an innocent population, including those they claim to be "saving".