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 Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 05:35 GMT
Milosevic's legal manoeuvring


Slobodan Milosevic was not joking when he said that he could go on for 10 days making his opening statement in his war crimes trial.

At the end of the two and a half days he was generously given by Judge Richard May to outline his case, he waved a video cassette which he had not had time to play, with the air of a man who had been asked to sum up his entire life in 30 seconds.

Kosovo Albanian refugees
The persecution of Kosovo's Albanians was touched upon
But what use did he make of the time he was allotted?

In truth, there was only one theme - that the real authors of Yugoslavia's misfortunes and the war crimes which took place were Nato and the Western powers.

In his words, they had fanned the flames of ethnic hatred by their policies - for example, Germany's decision to recognise Croatia as an independent state - and the Serbs had reacted to events rather than instigated them.

Serb support

For Mr Milosevic, this line has two virtues. It clearly appeals to Serbs and Serb supporters who feel aggrieved that they have been asked to bear the brunt of a collective failure to prevent the Balkan tragedy.

It also reinforces his argument that the court needs to hear from key Western politicians - Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright et al - so that it can understand the context in which the events unfolded.

Former US President Bill Clinton
Mr Milosevic wants to call Bill Clinton

Did he land any effective blows during his marathon opening? Politically, he undoubtedly did. There are questions about the attitude of Western governments to Milosevic, up to and including the Dayton peace accords of 1995.

But this is a matter for historians to adjudicate on. In a court of law, it is the evidence which counts and what Mr Milosevic conspicuously did not do was to try to rebut the charges against him.

First witness

After he sat down, the court was swiftly reminded of those charges when the first prosecution witness gave his testimony.

Mahmut Bakalli was not an insider witness from the Milosevic inner circle, whom the prosecution has been assiduously courting.

Mahmut Bakalli
The first witness spoke of the murder of an entire family

But the veteran Albanian Communist gave a strong flavour of the persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo which followed the first flexing of Mr Milosevic's nationalist muscles at the end of the 1980s.

He also provided the trial with another memorable quote.

Complaining to Mr Milosevic of the murder of an entire family, women and children included, by Serb police, he told the court the reply from the Serb leader was:

"Don't get carried away. We gave them two hours to get out of the building."

It is a phrase which may come back to haunt the defendant.


At The Hague

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18 Feb 02 | Europe
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