Former NATO commander U.S. General Wesley Clark has told the UN war crimes tribunal that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic knew in advance that Bosnian Serbs were planning the slaughter of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. Prosecutors say Clark's testimony is the most direct evidence so far linking Milosevic to Europe's worst civilian massacre since World War II.
Prague, 19 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Clark told the Hague war crimes tribunal that in a 1995 conversation he had with Milosevic, it became clear to him the former Yugoslav president had advance knowledge of that year's Srebrenica massacre.
Clark, the former NATO supreme commander and a current U.S. presidential hopeful, said he and Milosevic met in August 1995 when Clark was a military adviser to negotiations preceding the Dayton peace accord ending the Bosnian war.
The conversation came just one month after the slaughter in Srebrenica of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in an operation commanded by Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic.
Testifying to the Hague tribunal on 15 December, Clark recalled the discussion with Milosevic.
"I simply asked him, I said, 'Mr. President, you say you have so much influence over the Bosnian Serbs, but how is it then, if you have such influence, that you allowed General [Ratko] Mladic to kill all those people in Srebrenica?' And Milosevic looked at me and paused for a moment. He then said, 'Well, General Clark,' he said, 'I warned Mladic not to do this, but he didn't listen to me.'"
Clark went on to say he had no doubt Milosevic understood the significance of his reply.
"He was answering that he did know this in advance, and he was walking the fine line between saying he was powerful enough, influential enough to have known it but trying to excuse himself the responsibility for having done it," Clark said.
Milosevic, who faces genocide charges in the Bosnian war, maintains that he only heard about the massacre after it had taken place.
On 15 December, he told the court Clark's comments were "a blatant lie." In a cross-examination, he said he had never issued orders to Mladic or even been in a position to issue orders to him.
Milosevic also said he believes Mladic himself did not order the execution of people in Srebrenica, and that mercenaries were responsible for the slaughter.
Hague prosecution spokeswoman Florence Hartmann said Clark's testimony was "extremely important," as it gives the court direct evidence Milosevic had advance knowledge of the mass killings.
Clark, as NATO commander, directed the alliance's 11-week bombing campaign to drive Yugoslav forces from Kosovo during 1999 and bring to an end their brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians.
In his testimony, he also spoke of Milosevic's role in the Kosovo conflict, saying it appeared Milosevic was firmly in control of the army at the time. Clark also said that he spoke to Milosevic of crimes committed by Serb troops against ethnic Albanian civilians.
Clark's closed-door testimony continued through 16 December. A 200-page transcript of the testimony was released on 18 December, followed by videotapes today after U.S. officials were given a chance to review the recordings.
The United States had asked the court to be allowed to remove statements from the record if they affected U.S. national interests, under a procedure provided in court rules.