Kosovo, close to being a Mafia state, is littered with unexploded bombs. That's the result of ethical Blairism

The Blair government's resumption of arms sales to Indonesia ends an unreported hoax. The four-month "ban", supposedly in re-sponse to the renewed repression in East Timor, was hardly a ban at all. Licences were merely extended, so that no future business would be lost; and parliament and the public were not told. Now, with 170,000 East Timorese held hostage by the Indonesian military in camps in West Timor and British-supplied Saladin armoured cars used in attacks on civilians elsewhere in Indonesia, the military dictatorship that still runs the country (regardless of its democratic trappings) will be encouraged in its campaign against the popular resistance.

At the same time, the ethical Blairites are eager to resume arms sales to the Pakistani military dictatorship, which three months ago crushed an elected government. Pakistan's appalling human-rights record makes a grim joke of the European code of conduct on arms sales, adopted when Britain held the EU presidency. This is unsurprising; British arms exports have long gone to regimes with appalling human-rights records.

The ethical Blairites, however, add another dimension. Consider the legacy of their "new moral crusade" in Kosovo last spring. Clare Short, an avid crusader, said then: "Nato is not killing civilians. The very carefulness of our operations is to ensure that there is minimum damage to civilians." This was manifestly false. Several thousand civilians were killed and thousands more maimed, many by cluster bombs which are, in effect, air-dropped, time-activated landmines. Those that did not explode immediately now lie in wait for unsuspecting civilians, often children, who pick them up; on detonation, they release dozens of "bomblets" that cause horrific injuries.

I saw something of the human carnage they caused in Indochina following the American bombing; 30 years later, they are still killing and injuring. Not long ago, in tiny Laos, the British Mines Advisory Group found 700 unexploded bomblets in one school playground. According to the Asia correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, cluster bombs have given Laos "an annual nationwide casualty rate of 20,000, more than half of them deaths".

For Laos, now read Kosovo. Last April, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times, who distinguished himself by remaining in Kosovo during the Nato bombing, reported that cluster bombs had turned "parts of the province into a no-man's land" which was "littered" with unexploded bomblets. At Pristina Hospital, he witnessed the "horrific wounds" of Albanian children, caused by delayed-action clusters. (It was Watson who memorably wrote: "Even in Kosovo, I couldn't escape the sound of [Nato spokesman Jamie] Shea's voice . . . it haunted me at the strangest times, denying things that I knew to be true, insisting on others that I had seen were false.")

With Robert Fisk's reporting, Watson's witness to the carnage caused by Nato was rare. This was not so much a reporters' war as one dominated by drum-beating lifestyle columnists who never acknowledged that British pilots were using terror weapons against civilians, sowing Kosovo with a harvest of death and suffering that was in explicit violation of the Ottowa Convention, which prohibits the production and use of anti-personnel mines. Subsequent scrutiny of Ministry of Defence statistics reveals that, contrary to Clare Short's fiction of "carefulness", more than 75 per cent of bombs dropped by the RAF were free-fall, including the 78,057 cluster bomblets released.

"It would be wrong to assume," said Blair last April, "that bombs and missiles that miss their target necessarily cause collateral damage." Read again that statement and you get a sense of the craven sophistry with which respectable regimes cover their crimes. Blair is afraid of the truth getting out and his ministers blocked disclosure of the percentage of British bombs and missiles that "went astray" in Kosovo. They justify this by recourse to the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, a decree of state secrecy that no Soviet-era apparatchik could better.

The ethical Blairites claim they did not use depleted uranium in Kosovo, as John Major did in Iraq. Can we believe that? Their co-crusaders, the Americans, used it. The physicist and chemist Professor Hari Sharma, a world authority on depleted uranium, says: "The danger is equal to that of a long-term weapon of mass destruction. The inhalation of even the smallest dust particle may cause irreparable cell damage in unprotected people, resulting in a cancer epidemic that over time could kill thousands of the exposed" - in other words, the very people Blair claimed to be liberating.

Also unreported is the installation in Kosovo of a paramilitary regime with links to organised crime. Indeed, Kosovo may become the world's first Mafia state. As they oversee the ethnic cleansing of 240,000 Serb and Roma civilians, Nato and its United Nations partners have established a "working relationship" with the Kosovo Liberation Army, which Robin Cook and Madeleine Albright once dismissed as a terrorist group. Much of the KLA is criminalised, with war criminals, common murderers and drug traders forming an "interim administration" that will implement the "free-market reforms" required by the US and Europe. Their supervisors are the World Bank and the European Development Bank, whose aim is to ensure that western mining, petroleum and construction companies share the booty of Kosovo's extensive natural resources: a fitting finale to the new moral crusade. Watch for others.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 24 January 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The tyranny of the brands