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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 09:04 GMT
Landmark Milosevic trial opens
Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic: First ex-head of state tried for war crimes
The trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president accused of genocide and war crimes in the Balkans over a period of nearly 10 years, has begun in The Hague.

Milosevic charges
  • Genocide
  • Crimes against humanity
  • Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions
  • Violations of the laws or customs of war

    Click here for a full list of charges

  • The proceedings at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) are seen as the most important hearing since Nazi leaders went on trial at Nuremberg in the aftermath of World War II.

    Slobodan Milosevic is the first former head of state to be charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the bloody conflicts which followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1999.

    "Today as never before we see international justice in action," said the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, at the opening of the case.

    As head of state, Mr Milosevic is charged with presiding over a master plan to create a "Greater Serbia" in an alleged project which led to the killing of nearly a quarter of a million non-Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo.

    Some of the incidents revealed an almost medieval savagery and a calculated cruelty that went far beyond the bounds of legitimate warfare

    Chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte

    Tribunal lawyer Geoffrey Nice said the trial would examine Mr Milosevic's rise to power, "power which was exercised without accountability, responsibility or morality."

    Mr Milosevic has said he does not recognise the legitimacy of the UN tribunal or the charges against him, and has refused to appoint lawyers to defend him.

    However, one of his legal advisors said he expected Mr Milosevic to make a statement.

    "He is not recognising the court but... he is going to have his statement or preliminary words," said Belgrade lawyer Dragoslav Ognjanovic, who met the former president for three hours on Monday.

    Mr Ognjanovic said the opening statement could last for one or two days.

    Long trial

    Mr Milosevic's trial is expected to be one of the most complex cases in post-war legal history and could last up to two years.

    The former president faces a total of 66 counts of crimes against humanity, violating the laws and regulations of war, and genocide.

    Bodies from the Racak massacre in Kosovo
    The Racak massacre in Kosovo led to Nato's intervention

    If found guilty, he could face life imprisonment.

    Ms Del Ponte said he was "responsible for the worst crimes known to humankind" as Mr Milosevic sat impassively, glaring across the courtroom.

    "The events themselves were notorious and a new term, 'ethnic cleansing', came into common use in our language," she said.

    "Some of the incidents revealed an almost medieval savagery and a calculated cruelty that went far beyond the bounds of legitimate warfare."

    Prosecutors have said they will call up to 30 political insiders to give evidence linking Mr Milosevic to the atrocities of the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

    Mr Milosevic was reported to be in high spirits on the eve of the trial.

    "Milosevic is optimistic. He hopes truth will prevail and that the tribunal will recognise this truth," said Mr Ognjanovic.

    The former president is reported to be contemplating calling other former heads of state as witnesses, including United States President Bill Clinton, and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

    Many in Yugoslavia, including the current President Vojislav Kostunica, would have liked Mr Milosevic to have been tried at home on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

    The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
    "The trial could last two years"
    Jim Landale, War Crime Tribunal spokesman
    "He will get a fair trial"
    Slobodan Milosevic's brother, Borislav
    "The court ordered the kidnapping of Mr Milosevic"
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