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War Crimes Tribunal Gives Milosevic 3 Months to Prepare Defense - 2003-09-17

The United Nations war crimes tribunal in the Hague has given former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic three months to prepare his defense against charges of war crimes. This is much less than the two years he had asked for.

The decision means that Mr. Milosevic will have a three-month break between the close of the prosecution's case, and the opening of his defense.

Mr. Milosevic strongly protested Wednesday's ruling, but the presiding judge said this is not a matter for debate or an invitation to argument.

The former Yugoslav leader faces more than 60 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo during the 1990s.

The trial began about one-and-a-half years ago, but has been delayed several times, mainly due to Mr. Milosevic's health, including problems with high blood pressure, flu and fatigue.

Mr. Milosevic is expected to launch his defense early next year. Mr. Milosevic says he will defend himself even though he does not recognize the war crimes tribunal. He has repeatedly dismissed requests by judges to take a defense lawyer.

The court says it wants to balance his requirement for enough time to prepare his defense, with the need for a timely trial. He has legal advisers, and access to facilities and witnesses.

Legal observers say that, so far, he has been reasonably well briefed, drawing from information prepared for him by aides in Belgrade.

The former Yugoslav leader had said earlier that among the witnesses he plans to call are former U.S. President Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Analysts say the trial is very important since Mr. Milosevic is the first head of state since the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II to face charges before an international court.