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Milosevic Makes Case for His Defense - 2004-06-18


Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was back in court this week, after a three-month break, telling war crimes judges he plans to fight what he called the flagrant lies and terrible accusations prosecutors made against him during their two-year case. He was speaking during a procedural hearing at the United Nations' War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. The health of the 62-year-old former president has been bad enough to delay his trial several times. But back in court Thursday, Mr. Milosevic looked well-rested, and sounded his usual spirited and defiant self. Speaking through an interpreter, he told the judges he will prove that the charges against him are false.

"I don't recognize this Tribunal," he said. "I consider it to be an illegal tribunal and I consider it to be a means of warfare against my country. And treatment here and the treatment of my rights here, testifies to that."

With his defense case set to start in just a few weeks, Mr. Milosevic had several complaints for the court. He wants more time than the three months the judges have given him to prepare his case. He also wants more than the 150 days they have given him to present it, especially since he plans to call more than 1600 witnesses.

And Mr. Milosevic wants judges to subpoena not only the documents from the Western countries he says waged war against his own, but he wants their leaders, or former leaders, subpoenaed as well. Speaking though an interpreter, Mr. Milosevic called such potential witnesses hostile.

"[Former U.S. President Bill] Clinton has to appear here. [German Chancellor Gerhard] Shroeder has to appear here. [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair too, and others," he said. "They were heads of state. I was a head of state. You're trying me here as a head of state."

But this former head of state, who insists on representing himself, now has to interview his potential witnesses from behind bars.

Judges Thursday stuck to their 150-day limit, ruling Mr. Milosevic could call as many witnesses as he likes in that time. Although denying Mr. Milosevic's request for more time before his defense begins, judges said they might be more flexible depending on how many days the former president loses due to illness.

As for former President Clinton and the others, Mr. Milosevic will have to submit to the court, in writing, his reasons for calling them, something he has said he will not do on principle, because he does not recognize the court's authority.

The trial chamber hearing Mr. Milosevic's case is a new one. A British judge has replaced former presiding judge Richard May, who resigned earlier this year because of ill health.

Stepping into the role of lead judge is Patrick Robinson of Jamaica. Although quieter and more diplomatic than his predecessor, he appears to be taking a tougher stand against Mr. Milosevic.

The former Yugoslav leader is charged with 66 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including genocide, spanning more than a decade of war in the Balkans.

On Wednesday, judges threw out a request by the so-called friends of the court to drop the genocide charge. They are lawyers appointed by judges to make sure Mr. Milosevic's trial is fair. The court ruled that if Mr. Milosevic failed to defend himself against the charge, a reasonable court could find him guilty based on the case already made by prosecutors.

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