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 Friday, 15 February, 2002, 15:33 GMT
Milosevic attempts to try his accusers
Slobodan Milosevic in court
Milosevic refuses to engage with the indictments

Two parallel trials are running in Court No1 at The Hague war crimes tribunal - and it seems a distinct possibility that, for much of the two years the trial is expected to run, they may never converge.

On the one side are the prosecution lawyers who have fulfilled their remit by explaining what evidence they intend to call to prove the charges against Slobodan Milosevic.

In the court room, Mr Milosevic is a formidable adversary, a political fighter of long experience and no little skill

While on the other is a defendant who has made it plain that he does not wish to engage at all with the indictment but to concentrate instead on what he considers to be Nato war crimes.

The point at which the "two trials" are likely to become one is the point at which the judges will have to decide if some of the famous names that Mr Milosevic says he plans to call as witnesses, should be required to come.

Celebrity witnesses

Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, Kofi Annan - Mr Milosevic said on Friday that he planned to call them because they were part of the Dayton peace process which ended the war in Bosnia.

He also mentioned UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but would not call them in relation to the Bosnia indictment.

Former US President Bill Clinton
Could Bill Clinton face cross examination from Slobodan Milosevic
It remains an open question as to whether he will seek their testimony regarding the Kosovo charges.

Entertaining though the prospect is of Bill Clinton stepping up to the witness microphone to be cross-examined by Slobodan Milosevic there are a number of hurdles to be overcome before that happens.

First, a list of potential witnesses has to be submitted to the court.

If the judges approve the names, it is up to Mr Milosevic to approach the people concerned.

Should he find it difficult or impossible to persuade them to testify, the court has the power to issue a witness summons.

Tantalising prospect

This is entirely new territory for this court and no-one can predict whether we are about to see an embarrassing row between the UN and a world figure such as Jacques Chirac or Bill Clinton, anxious not to be placed in the lion's den.

But it is a tantalising prospect.

The verdict on this opening week of the most momentous war crimes trial since Nuremberg is this.

The prosecution remains confident that it can make the Kosovo charges stick by deploying up to 90 witnesses who will paint a graphic picture of atrocities caused by Serb expansionism, orchestrated by Mr Milosevic.

But their opponent is a formidable adversary, a political fighter of long experience and no little skill.

He will trade blow for blow - for as long as it takes.


At The Hague

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