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Milosevic Accuses West in War Crimes - 2002-02-18

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic wrapped up three days of opening arguments, bashing Western nations for what he calls "new colonialism" and hearing testimony from the first prosecution witness in his war crimes trial.

Slobodan Milosevic picked up Monday where he left off last week: giving the court a history lesson on how the Serbs have always been victims of outside aggression, with last decade's wars just the latest manifestation.

Mr. Milosevic said he tried to keep the peace in Yugoslavia and his trial is an example of the instigators of war accusing the protagonists of peace.

This could only be done, said Mr. Milosevic, with the help of Western media, whose journalists have become killers and mercenaries. He then showed a 45 minute newsreel of his own, one that he says back up his claims.

The truth, says Slobodan Milosevic, is on my side, and my only crime was to oppose the might of the West. He spoke of a personal hatred against him and his family.

Pointing squarely at prosecutors, Mr. Milosevic accused them of hitting below the belt and grasping at straws. In response to some of their charges, he said he spoke with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic immediately following the Srebrenica massacres of some 8,000 Muslim men. Mr. Karadzic swore he knew nothing about it. Both men are charged with genocide for what happened there.

The former president finished his arguments by saying it's worth being in prison just for the opportunity to tell the world the truth. "My name is Slobodan with a capital S," he said. Slobodan means free in his native language. Mr. Milosevic insisted the real criminals will one day be held accountable.

But prosecutors say they have the man responsible for a decade of Balkans bloodshed. And they called their first witness in order to prove it Kosovo Albanian leader, Mahmut Bakali.

Mr. Milosevic listened, took notes, and occasionally smiled as Mr. Bakali told of the apartheid system that Serbs imposed on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo following Slobodan Milosevic's rise to power.

Ethnic Albanians, he explained, lost their jobs, were illegally imprisoned, and forced to set up a parallel education system. It was all done, he testified, to bring Kosovo's Albanians to their knees.

Mr. Bakali met twice with Slobodan Milosevic in 1998 to try and negotiate a settlement between the two ethnic groups. He described the former president as a good host who listened attentively. But in the end, said Mr. Bakali, Slobodan Milosevic sent in a team of nationalists and negotiations ended in total failure.

Mr. Bakali also spoke of a plan, code named Scorched Earth. Its goal was to destroy hundreds of Albanian-populated areas in Kosovo. Mr. Bakali said Mr. Milosevic's head of security told him about the draconian plan two years before the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo began.

Slobodan Milosevic has the right to cross-examine Mr. Bakali Tuesday, but his legal advisors say they're not sure if he'll exercise that option.