A genocide, not a holocaust

It will always be necessary to raise questions about the scale of episodes of mass killing and their exaggeration for propaganda purposes: Kosovo is no exception. But John Pilger's purpose (15 November) abuses uncertainties about the numbers of dead to claim: "The Nato bombing provoked a wave of random brutality, murders and expulsions, a far cry from systematic extermination: genocide. . . . No one can doubt [the Milosevic regime's] cruelty and atrocities, but comparisons with the Third Reich are ridiculous."

"Random brutality" ignores the campaign of burnings and killings which made an estimated 250,000 homeless before Nato's intervention. It ignores evidence of organised Serbian military and police (as well as paramilitary) activity in forcing 750,000 people out of Kosovo. It ignores evidence of "Operation Horseshoe", suggesting murderous expulsions were a planned response, not spontaneous reaction, to Nato bombs.

Pilger must know that his identification of genocide with extermination is simplistic, and that no serious commentator or even politician has compared the scale of Serbian actions to those of the Nazis. The international convention defines genocide as the deliberate destruction of a national, racial, ethnic or religious group "in whole or in part". A campaign can be genocidal without approximating the maximum case of a "final solution". The balance of evidence suggests that Milosevic intended to destroy the Kosovars as a people, using mass killing and terror as adjuncts to expulsion.

It seems that every holocaust brings forth its denial, with pilgered language downgrading planned butchery to unfortunate atrocity. I am glad, however, that your columnist never took this approach to claims of Indonesian terror in East Timor.

Professor Martin Shaw
University of Sussex