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U.N. creates war crimes panel for Yugoslavia

The Security Council adopted a resolution Tuesday establishing its first war crimes commission to investigate atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, mainly in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

The vote was a unanimous 15-0 for the resolution, which sets in motion machinery that could lead to an international tribunal on the lines of the 1945-46 Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals for crimes against humanity.

But the document does not recommend prosecuting those accused of crimes, although diplomats said that might come later.

The council also adopted a second resolution providing for an enhanced U.N. presence in Croatia and condemning lawlessness in mainly ethnic Serb areas there.

The resolution sets up a commission of lawyers to evaluate evidence for possible trials of people who commit atrocities or other crimes against humanity. Falling under crimes against humanity would be murder, torture and "ethnic cleansing," the forced eviction of civilians from their homes, conducted mainly by Serbs against Muslims in Bosnia.

Reports by the United Nations have blamed all the warring groups _ Serbs, Croats and Muslims _ for such outlawed tactics. But the U.S. government, the U.N. secretary general and the U.N. Human Rights Commission's special envoy on Yugoslavia call Serbs the chief aggressors.

The resolution stops short of calling for trials at this stage, but diplomats say they hope that setting up an investigatory commission will deter people contemplating atrocities or other war crimes.

Nations, humanitarian agencies and U.N. organizations are to send reports of war crimes to the new commission within 30 days of adoption of the resolution.

The "Commission of Experts" will send its conclusions to U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who will recommend further steps to the Security Council.

Although some countries, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, wanted immediate prosecution through an international tribunal, the United States maintains that would be premature until evidence is evaluated and arrests are made.

Although Perkins tried to dissuade reporters from likening the process to Nuremberg, a U.S. position paper on the issue says: "This commission would be similar to the 1943 war crimes commission which led to the Nuremberg trials."

The 1945-49 Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals established a chain of responsibility for collective war crimes. Nazi leaders _ including Hermann Goering, Martin Bormann and Joachim von Ribbentrop _ were condemned to death.

The new war crimes resolution is based on the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians during war. It outlaws mass deportations and attacks on civilians, hospitals and mercy missions.

The wars that broke out as Yugoslavia disintegrated have been characterized by terror against minority ethnic groups, attacks, massacres and shelling of cities.

More than 14,000 people have been killed in Bosnia since Bosnian Serbs rebelled against a vote in February by Muslims and Croats to secede from Yugoslavia.