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NATO "distorted the truth" in Kosovo

PARIS, June 15 (AFP)

The media organisation Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders, RSF) Tuesday criticized NATO for "distorting the truth," and giving "false information and impossible-to-check figures," about the war in Yugoslavia.

In a report called "War in Yugoslavia, NATO's media blunders," the group, which is based in Paris, questioned whether it was a matter of "mistakes" or if the alliance made "deliberate attempts at disinformation."

"False information, exorbitant and impossible-to-check figures and the use of debatable historical references have strengthened doubts about the goodwill of certain western political and military leaders," RSF said in a communique.

In one example, the group cites NATO confirmation concerning the death of ethnic Albanian leader Fehmi Agani along with five others.

British General David Wilby had said at NATO headquarters in Brussels the report came from a "very reliable source" in Kosovo, which his department had checked carefully.

"Wilby's source turned out to be the London-based Kosovo Information Centre, which is run by Kosovar exiles," the report said, adding that "one of them, Hafiz Gagica, had said the same day that Ibrahim Rugova had been wounded and his whereabouts were not known."

Agani was in fact killed, but some days later, while Rugova subsequently met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, bringing blanket media coverage the Yugoslav leader was able to capitalize on.

"Making a rumor official in this way, during the first week of bombing, would appear to be less the result of a mistake than of a deliberate decision; to tip the balance in favor of NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia at a time when public opinion was still very sceptical about their effectiveness," the report said.

Another example cited was the April 14 air strike on a convoy which killed 75 people according to Serb sources.

After German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping initially accused Serb planes of the attack, NATO acknowledged the strike, saying "that apparently one of its planes dropped a bomb on a civilian vehicle travelling with a convoy."

On April 19, NATO admitted "it had hit two convoys with the help of about a dozen planes that dropped a total of nine bombs," RSF said, adding that the alliance made public a recording of a pilot responsible for hitting the first.

He said the vehicles in question were "of a military type," but two days later NATO admitted the recording had no connection with the bombing of the convoys.

RSF says "other features of western communication are approximate figures, debatable historic references and the use of vocabulary that has the aim of making the adversary appear monstrous."

"The term 'genocide' has been used systematically by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and in Germany officials have compared the Milosevic government to that of Hitler," the report adds.

"These historical references have led to protests from experts," RSF said.

"On April 27, NATO officials themselves admitted - although not in so many words - that their communication strategy had failed," it added, while also noting that "the workings of the propaganda machine hold no secrets for the Serbs."

"While remaining the defender of a 'just cause' in the eyes of western public opinion, NATO has not shown goodwill in its relations with the media, and has distorted the truth on several occasions," RSF charged.

"It is obvious that in time of war, the information provided by one side or the other may be liable to be used as a propaganda tool," it said.

"But it could still be hoped that a coalition of democracies, which claims to have right on its side, would behave with more integrity than the dictatorship it is fighting against," the group concluded.

Return to the 'NATO Bombing - has it brought peace to the Balkans?' Alert.

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