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Officials Attempt to Speed Up Milosevic Trial - 2003-09-30


Judges and lawyers at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague are trying to speed up the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, despite his health problems. His high blood pressure and other health issues have reduced trial proceedings to just three days a week. The trial has been going on for more than two years.

The seat usually occupied by Slobodan Milosevic was conspicuously empty, and that is the problem. The former Yugoslav president is ill, again.

Judge Richard May read out the findings of Mr. Milosevic's latest medical report.

"The accused is suffering from hypertension, with steep rises in blood pressure in moments of stress," he said. "He displays symptoms of exhaustion and extreme fatigue, coupled with rises in blood pressure to unacceptable levels."

Because of that, the judges agreed with a cardiologist's recommendation that the time Mr. Milosevic spends in court be cut back to three days a week.

Adding to the time problem is the former president's insistence on representing himself, leaving judges to figure out how to best ensure his rights while also conducting a speedy trial.

The trial is already expected to go on for at least another two years, which would make it one of the longest war crimes trials in history.

The vexing issue of Mr. Milosevic's health has already caused proceedings to be interrupted nine times, despite the judges' imposition of strict timetables for prosecutors.

In court Tuesday, prosecutor Geoffrey Nice pointed out some of the problems his team faces. He said almost 40 witnesses have had to be sent home from The Hague without testifying, costing the court more than $150,000.

Prosecutor Nice suggested it was time for the court to appoint a lawyer to help Mr. Milosevic, although not to take over his case. He also suggested that the judges do something about Mr. Milosevic's smoking.

"It is our understanding from a source that smoking is a significant aggravating factor to the condition of this accused, and that cessation of smoking might materially assist him," he said. One of the court-appointed lawyers assisting judges in the case has suggested that Mr. Milsoevic is not fit to stand trial at all, but judges have rejected that idea.

The prosecutors have 36 days to finish presenting their case, which includes 66 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed throughout the Balkans over a decade.

They are expected to do that by the end of the year, providing Mr. Milosevic's health allows them the time.

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