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Milosevic Asks to be Freed Pending Trial - 2002-01-30


Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has aksed judges at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal to set him free. Appeals judges are hearing prosecutor's arguments that there should be only one trial for him. A lower chamber has already ruled that the former president will be tried twice: first for alleged war crimes in Kosovo and only later for crimes allegedly committed in Bosnia and Croatia.

Appearing before a different set of judges, the ever-defiant and angry Slobodan Milosevic finally got the chance he says he has been waiting for, to speak without interruptions.

His message, though, was the same: he is a peacemaker in the Balkans, who is only facing trial to cover-up the real crimes committed by the West in Yugoslavia.

Mr. Milosevic says it is a case of the court trying to turn the victims, meaning his country, his people and himself, into the culprits.

The judges let him speak, but made it clear they were not interested in politics. Less than two weeks before Mr. Milosevic's trial for alleged war crimes in Kosovo, it is up to these five judges to decide what charges he will answer to and if his trial will even begin.

Prosecutors have been arguing that the former president should have one trial for all the charges against him - from Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia. They say the crimes were all part of the same plan to create a Serbian state dominated by Belgrade, and that Slobodan Milosevic was the man behind it all.

But Mr. Milosevic, who refuses to recognize the court, says he does not care about the logistics, that judges can decide for themselves whether he will face one trial or two. He told judges to let him go, saying "I will not flee. I am fully prepared to come to any hearing because this is not a battle I will miss."

The former president has no choice. But there are others who prosecutors fear may not show up if there are two trials. They plan to call about 20 high-level insiders, people who they say have direct evidence of what Mr. Milosevic did or said.

Given the high stakes, say prosecutors, it is hard to get these people to testify twice. All the more reason, they say, to have one trial.

The cases could even be joined, they argue, after the Kosovo trial starts. Seeking to dispel recent press rumors that they are having trouble getting high-level insiders to testify, prosecutors stressed that they are ready for the Kosovo trial.

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