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Farmer Accuses Milosevic of 'Unimaginable' Cruelty - 2002-02-22

An ethnic Albanian farmer, appearing as a prosecution witness at Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial in The Hague, has accused the former Yugoslav president of masterminding what he called "unimaginable" cruelty in Kosovo. The 67-year-old farmer described how Serb troops attacked his village, killed several of its inhabitants, and forced thousands to flee to Albania.

Fehim Elshani says Serb forces invaded his village the day after NATO began its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in March 1999. He told the United Nations war crimes tribunal that the Serbs came to the village with the intention of committing genocide. He says the Serbs wanted to exterminate ethnic Albanians.

Mr. Elshani refused to look Mr. Milosevic in the eye, but he accused the former president of being responsible for a rampage of killing, burning and looting in the village of Nogavac. He says Serb forces burned three elderly women and left a pile of maimed bodies in his own front yard.

The witness described how, when an explosion occurred in the village, he and his wife hid in the basement of their home. He says a Serb policeman wielding a knife found them and threatened to cut their throats. But it was at that moment, he adds, when two Serb policemen who knew him entered the house and saved them from being killed.

Mr. Elshani's testimony came after another ethnic Albanian, Agim Zeqiri, pleaded ill health and refused to answer any more questions by Mr. Milosevic, who cross-examined him intensely on Wednesday.

But Mr. Milosevic was unable to intimidate Mr. Elshani. When he sought to tie the witness to ethnic Albanian guerrillas the former president describes as terrorists, Mr. Elshani shot back that he had never had anything to do with the rebels.

Again, when Mr. Milosevic suggested that NATO bombs might have caused the explosion, Mr. Elshani said he saw no NATO planes in the sky until days after the massacre in Nogavac and that Mr. Milosevic knows very well who was responsible for the killings in his village because he ordered them.

Prosecutors have accused the former strongman of what they call command responsibility for the actions of his troops in Kosovo. They have charged him with 66 counts of war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia as well as in Kosovo. If he is convicted on any of those counts, he could spend the rest of his life in jail.

Even though he refuses to recognize the tribunal's legitimacy, Mr. Milosevic has displayed remarkable courtroom skills and conducted aggressive cross-examinations of witnesses.

The court has adjourned until Monday.