Austrian President Kurt Waldheim ended months of denial by acknowledging he played a role in a brutal Nazi "pacification" operation that cost thousands of lives in Yugoslavia, according to reports published today.
Waldheim, the former U.N. secretary general, had denied in a 13-page memo sent to the Washington Post in April that he was involved in the 1942 operation, staged to remove all 80,000 residents, including 3,500 armed partisans, from Kozara, a mountainous area of Yugoslavia.
But the newspaper today quoted Waldheim's spokesman, Gerold Christian, as saying that "additional research" revealed Waldheim's earlier statement was incorrect.
The United States is considering whether to add Waldheim to a "watch list" of people who could be denied entry into the United States and Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said today that "we'll be looking at this" new information.
Christian said Waldheim served as a supply officer in the Kozara operation.
"He was in the operation, but he was not in the fighting troops," Christian told the New York Times. The spokesman said that Waldheim served several functions, including translator and supply officer.
Today, Christian said in Vienna that Waldheim "never took part in any way in actions against partisans or Jews. He never got into physical contact with partisans, because he performed a subordinated activity" as a supply officer at the time.
Waldheim's earlier memo maintained that he had been transferred almost immediately after the operation began to an Italian infantry division 180 miles away, where he was a liaison officer.
While Christian said Waldheim had not engaged in fighting during the Kozara "pacification," the Post cited German reports showing that Lt. Kurt Waldheim was one of 29 members of the staff of the Nazi commander at Kozara, Gen. Freidrich von Stahl.
The newspaper said documents show Stahl recommended Waldheim and 33 others for the puppet Croatian government's King Zvonimir Medal for "heroic bravery in the battle against the insurgents in the spring and summer of 1942."