MR. R. R. STOKES BACK FROM TOUR INDICTS PRESENT POLICY IN ITALY
"I am convinced that the present system of forcibly repatriating so-called war criminals is absurd and unjust," said Mr. R. R. Stokes, in an interview with a Catholic Herald reporter, in reference to Allied policy in Italy in respect of Yugoslav nationals.
Mr. Stokes, who returned last Wednesday from a five-week tour of the Middle East, in which he visited Egypt, Saudi-Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, also spent four days in Rome on his way home.
The dominant impression he brought back was " the deep concern and rooted fear in Arab countries of Soviet infiltration and expansion. When I stayed with King Ibn Saud," said Mr. Stokes, " I found him coming back again and again to one point; we must do what we can to prevent Communist propaganda from the North ' from affecting our people." Friendship for Britain, except in Egypt, said Mr. Stokes, was as strong as ever.
Mr. Stokes, champion of P.O.W.s and D.P.s, was most obviously moved by the injustice of our repatriation of Yugoslays. It was at Cardinal Griffin's request that he met representatives of various Yugoslav groups, and it is this question which he is taking up most vigorously with the British Government.
By a Staff Reporter Back in London after an extensive tour of the Middle East and a flying four-day visit to Rome, Mr. R. R. Stokes, M.P., had some trenchant things to say about Allied policy in Italy towards Yugoslav internees, when I called on him the other morning. " Because detenus are quite evidently denied a fair trial and all opportunity to defend themselves, on their return to Yugoslavia, I am convinced that the present system of forcibly repatriating so-called war criminals is absurd and unjust," he told me.
" When I was in Rome, I visited the Regina Elena prison, where 130 Yugoslays are being held. I also met and consulted with the majority of those responsible for screening ' prisoners and for carrying out Allied orders. All the evidence shows that in effect the ' screening committee's ' sole function is to find • bodies ' that may be sacrificed to Tito's inhuman concept of justice."
" Apart from your own conclusions, have you any independent trustworthy evidence for that statement ?" I asked.
"Most certainly," answered Mr. Stokes. " From a document given to me by Monsignor Tardini, UnderSecretary of State at the Vatican, it is proved beyond all doubt that no lawyer in Yugoslavia can defend a man or woman alleged to have committed a war crime. " But what is equally conclusive to me is the unanimous view of reliable internees themselves. One of them told me that the mere fact of his absence from Yugoslavia for two years would amount to treason—and would result in his being found guilty and condemned to death automatically by a People's Court. They want to be informed before they are sent whether. Tito wants them or not; and if he does, what the charge against them is."
"In your opinion, were the Yugoslays you interviewed men of any consequence in the public life of their country ? " I asked.
" Some of them seemed to be men of reputation, but none of them, so far as I could see, were prominent figures on whose heads there would be ransoms. Professor Dusan Zanko, who once lectured in history and art at Zagreb, assured me that he and his fellow-internees at Regina Elena were ' small people' of little or no political significance. He himself was a professed antiCommunist; and this. plus the fact that he had stood out for Archbishop Stepinac, may have made him a wanted man."