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 Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 14:39 GMT
Milosevic challenges first witness
Kosovo Albanian politician Mahmut Bakalli takes the oath
Bakalli is the first of up to 350 witnesses
The former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, has cross-examined the first prosecution witness in his trial at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

In a frequently confrontational debate, Mr Milosevic constantly challenged the witness, Mahmut Bakalli - former Communist leader of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo - over the truth of his testimony.

It appeared to be an imposed apartheid which is a crime against humanity

Prosecution witness Mahmut Bakalli
Among others, Mr Milosevic queried Mr Bakalli's allegation that the former Yugoslav leader had known about the 1998 killing of 40 members of a single family - the Jasharis - in the Kosovo village of Prekaz.

Mr Milosevic said Jashari family members had refused to surrender, but Mr Bakalli retorted that women and children had been slaughtered.

Mr Bakalli is the first prosecution witness to testify against Mr Milosevic, who ended his cross-examination after about three-and-a-half hours.

Lively exchanges

The BBC's Peter Biles says Mr Milosevic started in a confrontational mood, but was confident while the witness appeared at times ill at ease.

Mr Bakalli had earlier told the court of what he called Mr Milosevic's policy of "apartheid" against the Albanian majority in Kosovo.

Slobodan Milosevic in court
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

  • Mr Milosevic countered this claim, asking Mr Bakalli to define apartheid and reminding his witness he was under oath - a statement that prompted a curt response from the witness.

    "You don't need to remind me of that," Mr Bakalli said.

    Demanding a "yes or no" answer, Mr Milosevic then launched into detailed questioning of Mr Bakalli's role when he was Kosovo leader as well of his alleged links to the Kosovo Liberation Army - the armed group that began fighting for an independent Kosovo in the late 1990s.

    Click here for extracts from Milosevic's defence

    Mr Bakalli rejected this saying he had only had contacts of a political or diplomatic nature.

    Both men were often interrupted by presiding Judge Richard May, who asked Mr Milosevic to give the witness a chance to respond and to stick to the line of questioning and Mr Bakalli to keep his answers short.

    Mr Milosevic in turn asked Mr Bakalli about alleged anti-Serb bias in Kosovo's schools, a question which also received an abrupt response from the witness.

    "You imposed the curriculum," Mr Bakalli said.

    "You imposed the heads of the schools and the faculties."

    First witness

    Mr Bakalli was the first of up to 350 witnesses called by the UN to give evidence. He took the stand after Mr Milosevic concluded his three-day opening address.

    Mahmut Bakalli shakes hands with Slobodan Milosevic when they met in 1998
    Bakalli and Milosevic: Confrontational debate

    In his testimony, Mr Bakalli, who said he had met Mr Milosevic while trying to calm tension after clashes between Serb security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas, testified he had suffered simply by being an Albanian.

    Mr Bakalli, now a member of the new Kosovo parliament, said a Serbian security officer told him in 1997 that Mr Milosevic already had a "scorched earth" plan for Kosovo, which allegedly included the levelling of 700 ethnic Albanian settlements.

    Mr Milosevic faces charges of genocide in Bosnia, and of crimes against humanity in Kosovo and Croatia.

    He rejects the legality of the court and has refused to appoint lawyers to defend him in what is being described as the most important war crimes trial since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

    He is the first former head of state to be indicted before an international tribunal.

      The BBC's Angus Roxburgh
    "He has the skills of a communist-trained propaganda expert"
      Milosevic tribunal spokesman Jim Landale
    "If the judges feel witnesses are relevant they may call them"
      Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch
    "He was an important foundation-laying witness"

    At The Hague

    Still wanted



    See also:

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