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Yugoslavia: Prosecution In Milosevic Trial Upbeat As Proceedings Resume

Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial is due to resume today after a four-week break. The prosecution says the effort is going well in spite of concern the proceedings are dragging on after more than a year in session. This week, the prosecution continues its examination of events in Srebrenica to prove Milosevic bears responsibility for the 1995 massacre there.

Prague, 25 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The prosecution in the war crimes tribunal against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic says it is confident the trial is going well.

The proceedings at the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague were due to resume today after a month-long summer break. The trial was postponed after Milosevic complained of unspecified health problems.

Milosevic faces more than 60 counts of war crimes, including genocide, for atrocities committed in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo in the 1990s, when he was Serbian and later Yugoslav president.

The trial, now into its second year, is widely viewed as the most important war crimes trial since proceedings at Nuremberg, Germany, following World War II. Milosevic is the first former head of state to stand trial before an international court on charges of having committed war crimes while in office.

Jean-Daniel Ruch, a diplomatic adviser to chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, said in his view the trial is going well. "Frankly, I think we [have] had a number of excellent witnesses, including insider witnesses who could, in our view, convincingly make the link between Slobodan Milosevic, between the leadership in Belgrade, and what was happening on the ground," ruch said. "I know the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, is absolutely confident that even if we had to stop the trial now there would be enough evidence for a serious sentence."

This week the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica again comes under focus. The prosecution is to continue its case that Milosevic bears responsibility for the deaths of 7,000 mostly Muslim men and boys at the hands of Bosnian Serb forces.

Milosevic has rejected the charge as an "absurdity." He argues that as Serbian president at the time, he was not involved in what he calls the domestic affairs of Bosnia.

The prosecution is coming under pressure to quicken the pace of the proceedings. Ruch said the problem is not so much the prosecution but Milosevic's fragile health. "Frankly, we would have liked to go quicker, but one of the problems we faced with Milosevic is that we lost a number of trial days because Mr. Milosevic did not feel well," he said.

The health of the former president, who turns 62 later this week (29 August), is a continuing concern. He is said to suffer from high blood pressure and be at heightened risk for heart problems. Last summer, the trial recessed for a similar duration because of health concerns.

Lead prosecutor Geoffrey Nice estimates the prosecution will now wrap up its case by the beginning of December. He reportedly would like to have more time to present evidence, but the court has indicated it will not grant any more extensions. The defense will then have its opportunity to present witnesses. Milosevic is representing himself in the trial. A verdict is expected sometime in 2005.

"In a reasonable scenario -- it would seem logical, it would seem normal -- for the defense to present its case during one year and that would lead us to the beginning of 2005 for a sentence," Ruch said.

If convicted of genocide, Milosevic faces life in prison.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.