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Hague Prosecution Wraps Up First Phase of Case Against Milosevic

Prosecutors at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal have wrapped up the first part of their case against Slobodan Milosevic. They've spent the past seven months trying to prove that the former Yugoslav president is responsible for the murder of hundreds of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and the deportation of some 750,000 more.

Former Canadian intelligence officer Phillip Coo was the prosecution's 124th and final witness during this first phase of its case against Slobodan Milosevic, the Kosovo case. A military expert, Phillip Coo testified that Mr. Milosevic, as Yugoslavia's president, was at the head of a well-functioning chain of command and that he was ultimately responsible for the country's military and police during their 1998 and '99 crackdown on Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.

Prosecutors say that for six months in 1999, troops under Slobodan Milosevic's control systematically attacked villages, massacred some of their inhabitants, and forced hundreds of thousands of others to flee. Proving Mr. Milosevic's command responsibility is at the heart of this case: in addition to proving the crimes were committed, prosecutors must show that Mr. Milosevic either ordered or knew about them and did nothing to stop them or to punish their perpetrators.

Judith Armatta of the legal rights group Coalition for International Justice said prosecutors have done the job. "It was a broad sweep in the villages of Kosovo. There's no way that the commander in chief wouldn't know, especially Mr. Milosevic, who had his thumb on everything," she said, "and everyone in a position to know testified to that: that he was the ultimate person in command."

That's something Slobodan Milosevic, who is defending himself, hasn't challenged, although he won't be presenting his case until some time next year. One of his legal advisers says prosecutors have so far failed to prove the charges and that many of their witnesses were in fact helpful to the defense. Prosecutors, though, say they're happy and that up until now, they've achieved what they've wanted to.

But the real drama of the day centered on Dutch lawyer Mikhail Wladimiroff, one of three amici curiae, or so-called friends of the court, whom judges appointed to assist them in legal and defense matters during the trial. In a recent newspaper interview, Mr. Wladimiroff is quoted as saying that there's enough evidence so far to convict Mr. Milosevic.

Lawyer Wladimiroff denies he ever said that, telling judges he regrets the distortion of his words. Still, Slobodan Milosevic, who called the article scandalous and the blackest of all the false accusations made against him, said by giving the interview, Mikhail Wladimiroff had disqualified himself.

Judges will make their own decision on the matter soon. Mr. Milosevic, though, clearly enjoyed attacking Mr. Wladimiroff, and seemed to relish his final chance before the adjournment to mock the court he still insists is stacked against him. He had this exchange with presiding Judge Richard May.

May: Yes, Mr. Milosevic. What is your final comment?

Milosevic: No final comment. Just would like you to enable me to hold a press conference as well. Prosecutors are constantly giving statements to the press, I can see the amicus are making statements to the press, it would be logical to allow me to hold a press conference likewise.

Judge May: The usual rules of detention apply to you. We'll adjourn now to [September] 26.

When court resumes in two weeks time, prosecutors begin the next phase of their case, presenting evidence related to crimes in Croatia and Bosnia. Those charges, which include genocide, are expected to be harder to prove. At the time of the crimes, Mr. Milosevic was president of neighboring Serbia.