Milosevic obstinate at war crimes tribunal ahead of Kosovo trial

Wednesday, January 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Slobodan Milosevic made a defiant appearance at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal Wednesday, dismissing the judges as biased in his last hearing before going on trial for alleged war crimes in Kosovo.

Keeping up his opposition to the U.N. court, Milosevic clashed with presiding Judge Richard May of Britain and said his case was unfair because it was based only on British intelligence and would be presented by a British judge.

The hearing in The Hague, Netherlands, laid the groundwork for Milosevic's first trial, due to start Feb. 12. Prosecutors said they plan to call scores of witnesses and present more than 1,400 exhibits to prove the ousted leader led a Serb onslaught against ethnic Albanians in 1998-1999.

Milosevic was transferred to the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, in June 2001 to answer to war crimes allegations for Kosovo.

He is charged in the deaths of nearly 900 Kosovar Albanians, the deportations of 800,000 people and sexual assault by Yugoslav army troops under his command.

Serb forces under Milosevic's control were driven from Kosovo after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia that ended the conflict and led to the toppling of Milosevic's government.

Since Milosevic was handed over to the court, prosecutors have issued two additional indictments against him for alleged crimes in Croatia and Bosnia, including the slaughter of several thousand Muslims in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica in 1995.

The court has refused to merge the three cases into a single trial. Prosecutors are appealing that decision.

During his six months at a U.N. detention unit in The Hague, Milosevic has appeared in court five times. He has repeatedly clashed with the panel of three judges and refused to appoint an attorney.

He has also filed proceedings at the French-based Court of Human Rights to contest the legality of the tribunal and his detention in The Hague.

As in earlier hearings, Milosevic said Wednesday that NATO forces were the true war criminals for ``killing innocent civilians in nighttime bombing raids.''

His troops fought to save their families and their country, he said.

After repeatedly asking Milosevic if he had any ``relevant'' comments, Judge May switched off his microphone and adjourned the session.

``This is not the time for speeches,'' May said, tossing his headphones onto his desk and marching out of the courtroom.

Milosevic looked relaxed and defiant as he listened to the proceedings flanked by two U.N. guards. He refused to respond to the court's offer to provide him with an investigator to help prepare for his upcoming trial.

When asked to comment on the proceedings, Milosevic instead accused NATO and ``Albanian terrorists'' of war crimes, including killing civilians and bombing maternity wards, hospitals, bridges and railways.

Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice said his team wanted to call 110 witnesses to testify against Milosevic, but May said he would allow 90 given ``the size and complexity of the case.''

Milosevic maintains that he will represent himself in court. The court entered innocent pleas for him after he refused to respond to any of the charges.

Three ``friends of the court'' have been appointed to ensure that Milosevic gets a fair trial. Instead of the usual two parties in court proceedings, arguments will be presented by the three sides.

The biggest challenge for prosecutors will be to link the widespread persecution and murder of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to Milosevic and his policies. They will call witnesses, including former Serb government officials awaiting their trials in The Hague, to connect his government to the crimes.

Judge May indicated that the prosecution's case should finish before the court's summer recess in August. Milosevic will have the right to call witnesses, show exhibits or testify in his own defense.