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Yugoslavia: A Defiant Milosevic Makes First Tribunal Appearance

Prague, 3 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic made a brief, defiant appearance today in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Milosevic, who appeared after having declined defense counsel, sent tribunal judges into a huddle when he refused to cooperate with the court at his first hearing since his transfer from Belgrade on 28 June:

"I consider this tribunal [to be] a false tribunal and indictments [to be] false indictments. It is illegal, being not appointed by [the] UN General Assembly, so I have no need to appoint counsel to [an] illegal organ."

Judge Richard May of Britain responded:

"Mr. Milosevic, in due course, you will have the chance to put in motions challenging the jurisdiction or any other preliminary matters which you wish to do. But we take it that you wish to proceed today without counsel, although it is a matter which you may wish to reconsider, in due course."

Judge May offered Milosevic to have the 32-page indictment read out loud, but Milosevic responded that it was not of importance to him.

May: "Now, do you want to have the indictment read out or not?"

Milosevic: "That's your problem." Judge May, after consulting with other judges, told Milosevic: "We will treat your response as waiving your right to have the indictment read."

The judge repeatedly urged Milosevic to reconsider his decision to appear without the benefit of defense counsel and warned the former Yugoslav head of state that the proceedings would be long and complex.

After failing to elicit a clear response to the question of whether Milosevic pleads guilty or not guilty, Judge May said the court understood the former president's comments as a plea of not guilty.

The charges against Milosevic concern crimes against humanity in Kosovo and against the customs of war -- including deportation, murder, and persecution on ethnic or religious grounds.

Milosevic was dressed in a blue business suit, a light-blue shirt, and a tie in the Serbian national colors of blue, white and red. He was flanked by two Dutch prison guards, but was not handcuffed. He declined the use of earphones for translation, and initially spoke calmly but firmly in English. But he later switched to Serbian to denounce the tribunal.

"This trial has, as its purpose, the justification of the war crimes committed by the NATO pact in Yugoslavia."

Judge May repeatedly interrupted Milosevic's attempts to explain his refusal to recognize the court. The judge said: "This is not the time for speeches," and told Milosevic he would have plenty of time to challenge the tribunal's legitimacy. But, he added to Milosevic, "you will be tried by the tribunal."

After just 12 minutes, Judge May adjourned the hearing until 27 August.

The tribunal filed the indictments in May 1999 at the height of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia over Kosovo and has repeatedly pledged to file additional indictments concerning war crimes and crimes against humanity in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Milosevic was ousted from power last October after trying to doctor federal presidential election results the previous month. He was arrested on 1 April and placed in Belgrade's central prison until his sudden transfer to The Hague. Serbian television broadcast today's hearing live.