HELSINGIN SANOMAT international

Foreign - Thursday 13.3.2003

Helena Ranta testifies at Milosevic trial in The Hague

 Former Yugoslav President accuses Finn of involvement in NATO conspiracy

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At his ongoing trial for genocide and other crimes, Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic attempted on Tuesday to demonstrate that the Albanians killed by Serb forces in the Kosovo village of Racak were combatants of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and not the civilian victims of a massacre as has been claimed.
   
In the courtroom of the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Milosevic said that Finnish forensic dentist Helena Ranta had been manipulated to write a report on the events in Racak which paved the way for the NATO bombings of Serbia and Kosovo in 1999.
   
Testifying at the trial on Tuesday, Ranta sharply denied being the target of any kind of manipulation.
   
Finland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs had been asked about the content of Ranta's secret report. The report was a key reason for the NATO decision to start the bombing campaign.

The Finnish forensic team
led by Ranta investigated the massacre in Racak in 1999. One of the victims was a young woman, another a young boy, and the rest were men. The investigators did not find any evidence to suggest that the dead were combatants.
   
Milosevic tried to put forward a conspiracy theory according to which Germany, as well as William Walker, ambassador of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), had put pressure on Ranta.
   
In her testimony Ranta pointed out that all of the members of her team were Finns, and that Finland is not even a member of NATO.
   
She emphasised that she was in Kosovo exclusively to determine the causes of death of those who were killed, without consideration of the possible political repercussions of her report.

At Tuesday's session
of the trial, Milosevic also focused on reports by Serb investigators who said that there were powder burn marks on the hands of 37 of the 40 bodies. He saw this of an indication that the dead were fighters, and not civilians.
   
Ranta rejected the findings, pointing out that they were based on a paraffin test which had been used already in the 1930s, and which she did not consider reliable. Ranta's group did not conduct any powder burn tests, because they were not able to study the bodies until a week after the victims had died. She said that such tests should be conducted within three to six hours after the shots had been fired.
   
Milosevic also showed pictures of an ammunition cartridge and a military identification tag, saying that they were further evidence that the victims were fighters.
   
According to the Ranta report, all of the bullets found by the Finnish investigators were found in the ground directly beneath the bodies. In an ordinary combat situation the bullets would have been more likely to penetrate the bodies, flying further away.
   
The bullets found inside the bodies were taken by the Serb investigators.

Ranta was visibly relieved
after her testimony. She said that she had expected a tougher grilling. She had prepared for the questioning by undergoing about half a dozen sessions of mock testimony in Helsinki.
   
Ranta says that she had anticipated some of Milosevic's claims - including the ones in which the Serb investigators found powder burns on the hands.
   
"I knew that Milosevic might launch an active attack. Fortunately judge Richard May interrupted him", Ranta said later on.

Ranta never made eye contact
with Milosevic, and was not intimidated by his tough cross-examination. Instead, she asked the defendant to be more precise in his questioning.
   
One expert praised her performance on the witness stand.
   
"Her testimony was very good, clear, scientific, and professional", said Judith Armatta, a representative of the Coalition of International Justice.
   
Armatta said that the testimony was important for clearing the air of claims that Ranta had characterised the events in Racak as a "massacre".
   
"The events in Racak are among the key issues at the Milosevic trial, and that is why Ranta's testimony was important", Armatta says.
   
In addition to Racak, Ranta has been involved in a number of high-profile investigations, including that of bones removed from the grave of the family of the last Russian Czar, the remains of Finnish soldiers found in old wartime battlefields in Russia, and victims of the sinking of the passenger ferry Estonia.
   
The first time that she investigated a massacre was in Bosnia. Now Ranta is set to go to Peru to serve in an advisory capacity.

Previously in HS International Edition:
 Forensic team to return to Kosovo to study Racak massacre (5.11.1999)
 Finnish investigator Helena Ranta to testify at Milosevic trial (26.11.2002)
 Finnish forensic expert Helena Ranta to work with UN Jenin fact-finding mission (25.4.2002)
 Finnish field study indicates Racak Massacre was atrocity (12.2.2001)


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