NATO's Clark says Serb media had to be stopped

WASHINGTON, June 8 (Reuters) - Former NATO commander Wesley Clark on Thursday denied allegations by Amnesty International that the alliance broke the law during its campaign against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic last year. Amnesty said it was wrong to choose targets where there were civilians, including bridges and the headquarters of theSerbian state radio and television, where 16 people were killed on April 23.

"I noticed on the news today there's criticism of the attack on the Serb media," Clark said in an address at the Brookings Institution think tank.

"Well of course, that was a controversial target, but the Serb media engine was feeding the war," he said.

Later he told reporters, "You're always making trade-offs in these decisions, but in this case it was a huge step to be able to take out this major instrument of provocation."

Though the programs were back on the air within six hours of the bombing, broadcasts were often interrupted when NATO attacked power supplies or transmitters.

Clark commanded forces who dropped 23,614 bombs or missiles in 38,004 sorties during a 78-day campaign whose mission statement he said was to "halt or disrupt a systematic campaign of violent repression and expulsion in Kosovo".

Most of more than 800,000 ethnic Albanian refugees who fled Kosovo last year have returned home since the Serb forces left and an international peacekeeping force went in.

State media had been "a crucial instrument of Milosevic's control over the Serb population," and "exported fear, hatred and instability in the neighboring regions," Clark said.

"So it was a legitimate target of war, validated by lawyers in many countries and validated by the international criminal tribunal," he added.

The state media focused almost entirely on the bomb damage and said the refugees were fleeing NATO. The refugees typically gave graphic accounts on crossing the border into Macedonia or Albania of brutal treatment at the hands of Serb forces.

Clark, who handed over command to U.S. Air Force General Joseph Ralston on May 3, was responding to Amnesty's report on Wednesday which said the bombing was "a deliberate attack on a civilian object and as such constitutes a war crime".

NATO has not put a figure on civilian casualties from its bombs which the Yugoslav government put at 400 to 600.

NATO has estimated that Serbian forces killed about 10,000 Kosovo Albanians between March and June last year.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson has described Amnesty's allegations as "baseless" and said the alliance will release its own report on the legality of the bombings.

Last week chief U.N. war crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said there was no basis for opening an investigation into the NATO campaign and there had been no deliberate targeting of civilians or unlawful military targets. [emperors-clothes]