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Yugoslavia: Milosevic Accuses NATO Of 'Genocide,' Insists Western Leaders Take The Stand

  • Alexandra Poolos

Speaking for a second day at his trial at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Slobodan Milosevic continued his attack on NATO for what he called its "bestial" assault on the former Yugoslavia, and called for former U.S. President Bill Clinton and other Western leaders to testify at his trial. The former Yugoslav leader, who has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the UN court and is speaking in his own defense, today showed reams of photographs of dead civilians to justify his claim that NATO committed war crimes in bombing Yugoslavia.

Prague, 15 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Slobodan Milosevic began the fourth day of his historic war crimes trial at The Hague once again on the defensive, showing for nearly two hours grisly photos of carbonized bodies that he said were civilians killed by NATO bombs in Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.

Lobbing back the charges he himself faces, Milosevic accused NATO of "genocide and crimes against humanity" for allowing Serbs to be killed or forced out by Albanian "terrorists" after the military alliance occupied Kosovo in June 1999.

Milosevic's charges include genocide in the 1992-95 Bosnian war and crimes against humanity in Croatia in 1991-92 and Kosovo in 1999. The former Serb leader said that he would call to the stand Western leaders ranging from former U.S. President Bill Clinton to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to testify at his trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

"Considering all the circumstances with the peace process, taking into account the decisions and the policy and the realization of that policy and specially regarding the crimes, I would request the [presence of the following] witnesses to question them: [former U.S. President Bill] Clinton, [former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright, [French President Jacques] Chirac, [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair, [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder, [former German Foreign Minister Klaus] Kinkel, [German Foreign Minister] Joschka Fischer, [French Foreign Minister Hubert] Vedrine, [former British Foreign Secretary Robin] Cook," Milosevic said.

Independent human rights organizations have estimated that some 500 civilians, both Serb and Albanian, died during the 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia. NATO has apologized for civilian deaths, calling them accidental.

Milosevic reiterated other lines of his defense statement yesterday, blaming civilian deaths and the mass exodus of ethnic Albanian refugees on NATO and the Kosovo Liberation Army. He said the "migration of Albanians" was of "strategic importance" to former U.S. President Clinton to win public support for NATO intervention. Serb forces, Milosevic said, were not responsible and actually attempted to assist fleeing and injured Albanian civilians.

"[The prosecutor] has to justify the previous premise that everybody was fleeing from the Serb forces," Milosevic said. "The Serb forces were trying to save them, they assisted them; they transported them to hospitals, even to the most elite American institutions, even to Belgrade and not to Prishtina and other towns of Kosovo."

Richard Dicker, an international law expert with Human Rights Watch, today said Milosevic's statements today were a continuation of the overall theme of his defense that Serbs were the victims in the Balkan wars, and NATO the aggressor.

"What I made of his comment was a neat, rhetorical turn of phrase that is consistent with the whole gist of his presentation, which is to turn things around so that he and [the people of Serbia] are the victims of the crimes, NATO is the criminal, and this court is the accomplice in injustice," Dicker said.

The Yugoslav government sharply rebuked Milosevic today for what it called a "disgusting and impermissible" misuse of photographs of dead civilians from NATO air strikes "for which he [Milosevic] himself was also responsible."

Information Secretary Slobodan Orlic said that by showing the photographs, Milosevic is once again "misusing the media." Orlic accused Milosevic of instigating the NATO campaign with his "destructive policy." He asked why the former president didn't show photos of "places where he and his family were hiding" during the strikes.

It is not yet clear whether Milosevic will continue with his opening statement on 18 February, when the prosecution is scheduled to call its first witness to the stand.

The former Serb leader told the court this morning that he was only "halfway" finished with his opening defense statement and deserved more time. But he was cut off by presiding Judge Richard May, who told him he should speak for no more than two days total -- the same amount of time used by the prosecution.

"We will determine what is a reasonable amount of time for you to make a statement because we have to have regard to the amount of time taken up by this trial," May said.

Milosevic, the first former head of state to be tried before an international tribunal, is facing three indictments carrying a total of 66 charges against him. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Having refused to acknowledged the legitimacy of the tribunal, Milosevic has not appointed defense counsel and is speaking on his own behalf. Judges have entered not-guilty pleas for Milosevic, and have appointed three amici curiae, or "friends of the court," to ensure he receives a fair trial.

An additional adviser, Belgrade lawyer Dragoslav Ognjanovic, said late yesterday that Milosevic was happy with his performance at the tribunal so far. He added that the former Yugoslav leader, though tired, is in "good shape."