A U.N. court in The Hague has opened the trial of six Serb politicians and generals accused of war crimes during the Serb crackdown on Kosovo Albanians in 1998 and 1999.

The six defendants were close allies of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in a Dutch prison last March while facing similar charges.

The defendants include former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, former Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, a former Yugoslav army chief of staff, Dragoljub Ojdanic, and three other generals, Nebojsa Pavkovic, Vladimir Lazarevic, and Sreten Lukic.

The prosecutor,Thomas Hannis, began Monday's court proceedings by accusing the men of colluding with Milosevic to maintain Serb control of Kosovo by forcibly deporting 800,000 ethnic Albanians.

The defendants are also charged with atrocities against ethnic Albanians committed by Serb troops, and are accused of failing to punish the perpetrators.

All six have pleaded not guilty.

NATO forces launched a nearly three-month bombing campaign against targets in Serbia and Kosovo province in March 1999 to force Serb troops to retreat. The bombing stopped after Serbian troops agreed to leave Kosovo and hand the province over to U.N. administration.

Milosevic and other former Serb officials argued they were fighting a legitimate defensive war in Kosovo against the Kosovo Liberation Army, which they branded a terrorist group.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.