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Yugoslavia: War Crimes Trial Takes Summer Recess Amid Concerns Over Milosevic's Health

The war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague was suspended for a four-week summer break today after three days of testimony by Milosevic's former secret police chief. The recess comes as doctors admit serious concern over the state of Milosevic's health.

Prague, 26 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In today's final day of testimony before a four-week summer recess, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's former secret police chief and Deputy Interior Minister Rade Markovic was cross-examined by his old boss at Milosevic's war crimes trial in The Hague.

In contrast to his damning testimony yesterday, Markovic today confirmed Milosevic's claim that the Belgrade authorities did not have a plan to expel a sizeable portion of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of the population of the province. "I have never seen any proposals, orders or plans to expel Albanians from Kosovo."

Markovic conceded that crimes had been perpetrated by individuals, but that these were prosecuted. "In Kosovo, there were some crimes perpetrated by individuals, both from the army and from the police, and those who were caught were prosecuted."

Markovic insisted there was no policy of killing or targeting civilians. "The task was to preserve the life and the security of civilians in Kosovo, both Serbs and Albanians."

Many of the 66 counts of war crimes with which Milosevic is charged involve the alleged murder of ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo by forces of the Serbian Interior Ministry. Up to 10,000 civilians are alleged to have been killed by Serbian forces in Kosovo during the 78-day NATO bombing campaign that sought to expel Serb forces from the province. During that period, some 800,000 Kosovo residents, mainly ethnic Albanians, sought refuge in neighboring countries after having been expelled by Serbian forces.

In testimony yesterday, Markovic confirmed the existence of a special government body that coordinated the activities of the Yugoslav Army and Serbian Interior Ministry forces. He also alleged that Milosevic received daily security briefings on the situation in Kosovo during the 1998-99 conflict, as well as occasional briefings by the Serbian military and police commanders in Kosovo, who Markovic says sidestepped the standard chain of command to inform Milosevic directly.

Markovic also confirmed under cross-examination by Milosevic that security equipment destined for Kosovo was purchased mainly with funds given by the Yugoslav customs service, but only with Milosevic's approval. As Markovic said, "When we needed help with this, we asked Milosevic directly."

"When cash was required, approval was needed for financing the needs of State Security or the army of Yugoslavia. This had to be requested from Slobodan Milosevic."

However, the chief issue in the final days of the trial before the summer recess has been Milosevic's health. Judge Richard May told the tribunal yesterday that a new medical report confirms that Milosevic has high blood pressure and is at grave risk of a heart attack. May said further tests on the 60-year-old Milosevic are needed. According to May, Milosevic's "workload must be reduced and the medical treatment by a cardiologist is most advisable." May says the court will consider any option that may be available for the future conduct of the trial to accommodate Milosevic's health needs.

Milosevic, who does not recognize the court's legitimacy and who is defending himself, insists he has no interest in what would be the third interruption in the proceedings due to his health. "It's your problem. I never complained. I never asked in the last six months for any interruption."

But Jim Landale, a spokesman for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, speaking by telephone from The Hague, says Milosevic is seriously ill. "The conclusions [of the doctors] were that Mr. Milosevic has some serious cardiovascular risks, which will require careful future monitoring."

The prosecution has until mid-September to conclude its case on Kosovo, after which the focus will shift to testimony by 71 witnesses of crimes committed in Croatia, followed by the testimony through next May of 106 prosecution witnesses for Bosnia. Only once that testimony has been completed will Milosevic be able to launch his defense.