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Milosevic Tribunal Holds Latest Combative Hearing Before Feb Trial - 2002-01-09

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has said the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague is biased against him, has no jurisdiction over him and should be trying NATO and what he describes as Albanian terrorists for war crimes instead of him.

The defiant former strongman sparred repeatedly with presiding judge Richard May at a hearing Wednesday, his last before he goes on trial next month for crimes against humanity in Kosovo.

Mr. Milosevic has been charged with five counts related to his crackdown in 1998 and 1999 on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The charges include the murder of 900 Kosovo Albanians and the expulsion of 800,000 civilians from their homes.

But, as far as the former Serb nationalist leader is concerned, it was NATO and what he called Albanian terrorists who were responsible for crimes like murder and the destruction of maternity wards and hospitals.

Reverting to a pattern he has displayed in four previous court appearances, Mr. Milosevic said he does not recognize the authority of the tribunal and refuses to enter a plea on the charges against him. The court has entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Wednesday's hearing was intended to deal only with such procedural matters as how many witnesses prosecutors will be allowed to call and how long the trial should last. Judge May wants the witness list whittled down to 90 from 110 and says the trial should end by the beginning of August. Prosecutors had planned to wrap up their case by the end of September.

As court officials discussed the administrative details of the forthcoming trial, Judge May asked Mr. Milosevic whether he had any comments. It was then that he launched into his anti-tribunal and anti-NATO tirade and followed it up with dramatic accusations about the court's make-up.

"Courts should be impartial. But look at this court. The indictment has been raised according to what the British intelligence service has said. The judge is an Englishman," said Mr. Milosevic.

It was then that Judge May signaled that he had heard enough.

"We have listened to you patiently. You have been told a number of times that this hearing is purely to deal with matters of procedure. You will have a full opportunity at your trial to make your defense and make your defense and make your statements. That time is not now. This hearing is adjourned," Judge May said.

Mr. Milosevic also faces charges of genocide for alleged crimes in Bosnia and Croatia in the early and mid-1990s. But those charges will come up at a second trial, for which no date has yet been set.