WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration, under mounting pressure for action in the face of atrocities in the Balkans, moved yesterday to initiate international probes of detention camp atrocities and to collect evidence of war crimes.
In Geneva, a U.S. envoy pressed for an emergency session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of Nazi-like killings and torture at detention camps operated by the combatants and aimed especially at the conduct of Serbian forces.
The State Department said it was preparing a U.N. resolution urging countries to submit data on war crimes to the Security Council but did not say what the council should do with the evidence.
These and other moves were announced in a stepped-up show of activity following sharp criticism on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that the administration was doing too little to halt brutality in the former Yugoslavia.
They marked an effort to fend off pressure for the United States to become embroiled militarily in a tangled war of ethnic hatred.
But the prospect increased that the United States and its European allies would have to commit air and naval power to make good on their commitment that food and medicine get through to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
As fighting barred most flights from Sarajevo's airport, the United States pressed other countries to back a U.N. resolution authorizing force to ensure that the relief effort continues.
Criticism of the administration grew angrier and more politically charged yesterday with its slow response to fresh reports of executions and torture of Muslims and Croats at Serbian-run camps. The State Department on Monday appeared to corroborate the reports, while showing little outrage, but then backed off Tuesday, saying they had not been confirmed. The White House has been largely silent on the subject all week.
Acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, in a statement clearly intended to regain moral ground, said the International Red Cross had as yet found no evidence of death camps while noting "very difficult conditions of detention" at nine facilities it had visited.
"Nevertheless, there are reports of many other detention centers which the Red Cross has not been able to visit, and it is at some of these that atrocities have been reported.
"These reports, although unconfirmed, are profoundly disturbing," Mr. Eagleburger said. "Urgent action is required to reveal the truth and to prevent any abuses which may be occurring."
The United States wants the Human Rights Commission to dispatch a special representative to investigate the camps and report back to the Security Council. The council on Tuesday, at U.S. instigation, demanded that the camps be opened to international inspection.
Mr. Eagleburger said the United States was preparing a resolution "which would call on all states and organizations to collect substantiated information concerning war crimes, and to make that information available to the Security Council."
He did not propose how the evidence should be handled. There is currently no international court for war crimes. Evidence gathered of war crimes committed by Iraq during the Persian Gulf crisis has not been pursued in any international forum.
The State Department demand for an investigation into war crimes was similar to a demand made by Democratic nominee Bill Clinton a week ago at a time when he was being ridiculed by the Bush camp for his experience in foreign affairs.
In a statement issued July 26, Mr. Clinton said the international community should take steps to charge the regime of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic "and those responsible for the slaughter of innocent civilians" with crimes against humanity "as we should have done long ago in the case of Iraq."