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Ethnic Albanian Witness Confronts Milosevic - 2002-02-21

Slobodan Milosevic has won a minor courtroom victory in his war crimes trial at The Hague. But he also faced testimony from a victim of one of the atrocities prosecutors say the former Yugoslav president masterminded. Mr. Milosevic has challenged prosecutors to prove that he ordered killings and deportations of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Mr. Milosevic scored a point when he objected that testimony about alleged massacre sites in Kosovo by the international war crimes tribunal's chief investigator in the province was based on inadmissible hearsay.

The investigator, Kevin Curtis, was supposed to testify about sites where the prosecution says hundreds of Kosovo Albanians were murdered by Serb forces.

But the former Serb and Yugoslav strongman said such testimony would be no more than a repetition of prosecutors' opening arguments and that Mr. Curtis would be re-telling stories he heard from others.

Presiding judge Richard May agreed with Mr. Milosevic and threw out Mr. Curtis' testimony, saying it was irrelevant.

Prosecutors say Mr. Milosevic bears what they call "command responsibility" for crimes committed by Serb forces against ethnic Albanians, even if they did not act directly under his orders.

But the former president says they must prove beyond doubt that he was both present at the crime scenes and committed the crimes. He says the court, whose jurisdiction he does not recognize, has no right to convict him for crimes committed by others.

Later, Mr. Milosevic was confronted for the first time by an ethnic-Albanian witness who says he survived one of the massacres prosecutors accuse the former leader of orchestrating.

Agim Zeqiri, a farmer from the Kosovo village of Celine, told the court Serb troops burned arts of the hamlet and killed 16 members of his family a day after NATO began its bombing of Yugoslavia in March 1999.

Under cross-examination by Mr. Milosevic, Mr. Zeqiri admitted that he and other villagers gave food and clothes to ethnic-Albanian guerrillas. He said the rebels were not based in the village, but passed through from time to time.

Mr. Milosevic has tried to portray his actions in Kosovo as part of a struggle against ethnic-Albanian terrorists, equating them with the current U.S.-led global war on terrorism. He accuses NATO of murdering civilians in Yugoslavia.

The former Yugoslav president stands accused of 66 counts of war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, as well as Kosovo, during a decade of conflict in the Balkans. His trial is expected to last up to two years.