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Appeals Chamber Rules Milosevic Must Accept Lawyers


Appeals judges at the Yugoslav war crimes Tribunal upheld a lower court's decision forcing attorneys on Slobodan Milosevic. But, they also found that judges went a little too far, and ordered that the former Yugoslav ruler play the leading role in his own defense.

Practically speaking, the ruling means the trial of the former Yugoslav leader will look very much like it did last year before judges decided he was too sick to continue representing himself and imposed counsel on him.

While appeals judges upheld that decision, they ruled the restrictions placed on Slobodan Milosevic were excessive and relegated him to what they called a second-tier role at his own trial. Since lawyers were forced on Mr. Milosevic, he has been unable to question witnesses until after the lawyers are finished - something he has refused to do on principle.

This has led to a massive witness boycott, which in turn led lawyers assigned to Mr. Milosevic to ask to be dropped from the case.

Judith Armatta, who has been following the trial for the Coalition for International Justice, says Monday's ruling is a victory for Mr. Milosevic - a disappointing compromise solution that lets the court save face while letting the trial go on with an extremely defiant defendant.

"I think it is the court trying to do what courts always try to do, which is to stumble along and see justice done, however imperfectly," she said.

The court-appointed lawyers will now take the secondary role, stepping in when Mr. Milosevic is unable to participate in his trial because of his high blood pressure and heart problems. It will be up to the trial chamber to decide when that is. It is also up to the trial judges to rule whether they will accept the resignations of the two lawyers assigned to the case - lawyers Mr. Milosevic refuses to speak to. Whether the former leader accepts the decision should be known next week when his trial resumes.

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