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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 06:26 GMT 07:26 UK
Milosevic trial delays build
Slobodan Milosevic appears in court
Mr Milosevic may have a long wait for his trial
By BBC south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The announcement by Carla del Ponte, the United Nations' chief war crimes prosecutor, that new indictments will soon be laid against Slobodan Milosevic suggests that the start of the trial is still a long way off.

In the view of the chamber this matter should be ready for trial

Judge Richard May
However, presiding at Mr Milosevic's second preliminary hearing at the UN war crimes tribunal on Thursday, Judge Richard May made it clear he was getting impatient.

Judge May said that a date would be set for the trial at the beginning of 2002.

"In the view of the chamber this matter should be ready for trial. The indictment was issued over two years ago. This accused has now been in custody for two months and the matter must be readied for trial."

War Crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte
Carla Del Ponte: New indictments

The new indictments announced on Thursday - over war crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia in the first half of the 1990s - are to be completed by 1 October.

They will then be followed within two months by amendments to Mr Milosevic's existing indictment over Kosovo.

New evidence

These amendments follow the recent discovery of mass graves containing bodies of Kosovo Albanians in Serbia.

Judge Richard May
Judge May made it clear he wants to see progress

The post-Milosevic leadership in Belgrade has also alleged that the former leader ordered the destruction or removal of the remains of victims from Kosovo to prevent their use as evidence by the tribunal in The Hague.

Kosovo came under United Nations administration in June 1999 and that immediately made it possible for tribunal investigators to begin gathering evidence there.

By contrast, the tribunal's staff were banned from Serbia until after Mr Milosevic's fall from power in October last year.

So for Mr Milosevic to complain about the length of time involved in preparing an indictment against him is rather unfair - given the fact that he had done his best while he was still in power to obstruct the prosecutors' work.

The tribunal does not have its own law enforcement agencies, and it relies on the co-operation of individual countries which has ranged from the non-existent - as in the case of Serbia under Mr Milosevic - to the reluctant.

Even Western governments have at times been cautious about parting with secretly-gathered information if that was likely to endanger their intelligence networks.

Slow process

All this has slowed down the tribunal's prosecution system.

But its rules of fairness act as another delaying mechanism. A defendant and his legal team are entitled to a minimum of three and half months to defend their case - and in practice much longer.

In other words, if the Kosovo indictment is amended in November, Mr Milosevic's trial could hardly get underway before March.

But the delay is likely to be much longer because the cases relating to Bosnia and Croatia are far less advanced than the case relating to Kosovo.

However, the overlap between these conflicts - with regard to their origins, the methods used as well as the cast of characters involved in them - means that it makes a lot of sense to hold one trial, rather than two (or three).

If all charges are heard together, Ms del Ponte has said it will be at least a year before the trial can open.

The BBC's Angus Roxborough
"Slobodan Milosevic had sharpened his English and his arguments"
Jim Landale, UN Tribunal spokesman
"The judges were keen to get this case to trial"
Gerrard Strijards of the Dutch prosecutor's office
"It was quite exceptional - but we could expect that"
See also:

20 Aug 01 | Europe
Milosevic gets birthday visit
30 Aug 01 | Europe
Milosevic's second hearing
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