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Yugoslavia: Milosevic Tells Tribunal He Is 'Moral Victor'

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic concluded his opening remarks today as his war crimes trial continues at the UN tribunal at The Hague. He described himself to the court as "the moral victor."

Prague, 18 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Slobodan Milosevic concluded his opening defense statement today to the UN's war crimes tribunal in The Hague, describing himself as "the moral victor" and saying that truth is on his side.

Milosevic told the court that world public opinion will act as his jury in acquitting him of all war crimes-related charges. "I have been charged with a crime that has been committed by others, primarily those outside Yugoslavia."

Milosevic is charged with 66 counts of war crimes, including genocide, for atrocities committed in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo in the 1990s when he was Serbian president and later Yugoslav president. The 60-year-old former leader could face up to life in prison if convicted of the charges.

The trial began on 12 February and is expected to last as long as two years. The prosecution spent the first two days summarizing the charges. Milosevic began his opening statement on 14 February.

Milosevic today quoted extensively from Western news reports to back up his claim of innocence and to blame what he called the "great Western powers" for "victimizing the former Yugoslavia" by turning it into a "testing ground" and "using national conflicts" to destroy it. He said the West incited nationalism in Croatia and Bosnia and "fanned the flames into a full-fledged civil war."

"There are some people who still haven't realized the truth today, that the war on the territory of the former Yugoslavia is the result of the will and the interest of others -- the great Western powers."

Milosevic rejected allegations that he commanded the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), the army of former Yugoslavia that launched military operations against Slovenia and Croatia in June 1991.

"The whole tirade we've heard about command and responsibility -- the idea -- is nonsensical because it is baseless. It's also a big lie because I didn't have any -- de jure or de facto -- command function over the Yugoslav People's Army."

However, Milosevic took credit for commanding the JNA's successor, the VJ. The VJ was active in Kosovo during the rebellion by the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1998-99.

"I commanded the Army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY, or VJ), which succeeded in defending [the country] from the NATO pact. It was incomparably smaller and weaker against an incomparably greater force. We defended ourselves."

Milosevic saved his strongest criticism for the prosecution, saying "everything [the prosecution] says is the opposite and is untruthful."

"It's beneath my decency to comment on various insinuations which are extraordinarily low. You heard here at the beginning [of the trial] a recording of me at Kosovo Polje, where I, as you put it, took advantage to boost my popularity and become head of the party. But that scene was shot in 1987 and I was elected head of the [Socialist League of Serbia] already a year earlier, in May 1986."

However, in 1987, Milosevic was still only running Serbia, not the whole six-republic Yugoslav federation, and his rise to power in the party and federal government was far from over.

"All these things show that the indictment is full of lies and that the prosecutors are grabbing at straws. They don't have anything except for dilettantish psychoanalytic allegations with which they want to hypnotize people into believing that they committed crimes."

Milosevic blames the other side in Croatia and Bosnia for starting the war. "Neither in Croatia nor in Bosnia did the Serbs start the war. Violence was committed against them."

After Milosevic concluded his defense, the prosecution began calling the first of some 90 witnesses, starting with Mahmut Bakalli, who headed the ruling League of Communists in Kosovo from 1970 until 1981, when he resigned in protest against the manner in which Belgrade cracked down on Albanian student protesters.

Bakalli met Milosevic secretly in 1988 in the hope of finding a political solution for the province. The talks led nowhere and the following year Milosevic repealed Kosovo's autonomous status.