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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 19:54 GMT
Witness questioned on Milosevic's behalf
Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic is now taking an active role in proceedings
Court-appointed lawyers at Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial in The Hague have for the first time intervened to cross-examine a witness on his behalf.


There were three elderly women burned by your forces. You should bear in mind that I myself was involved in this and I buried (one of them), together with her son

Fehim Elshani, Kosovan prosecution witness
After a grilling by Mr Milosevic, the prosecution witness - Kosovo Albanian farmer Fehim Elshani - was questioned by the Belgrade lawyer Branislav Tapuskovic, one of the three so-called friends of the court appointed to ensure Mr Milosevic receives a fair trial.

Mr Elshani, 67, admitted that his son had been involved with the Kosovo Liberation Army, but said he himself had not.

The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan in The Hague says that Mr Milosevic has been trying to establish links between the witnesses and the Kosovo Liberation Army, which his government regarded as terrorists.

'Unimaginable' crimes

Mr Elshani accused Mr Milosevic of masterminding "unimaginable" atrocities in Kosovo, telling the court how Serbs entered his village and ordered it to be burned.


Slobodan Milosevic
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

  • "There were three elderly women burned by your forces. You should bear in mind that I myself was involved in this and I buried [one of them], together with her son," he said.

    Mr Milosevic looked unmoved, and carried on with his cross-examination.

    Mr Elshani was the second Kosovan victim put on the stand by the prosecution, in an attempt to build a case-by-case study of repression in Kosovo.

    'Too sick'

    Earlier, the first Kosovan victim to give evidence left the court before the former Yugoslav president could finish his cross-examination.


    I'm not well at all, I'm not in a position to discuss all this

    Agim Zeqiri
    Agim Zeqiri, an ethnic Albanian farmer, who told the court yesterday that Serb forces burned his village and killed 16 members of his family, said he was too ill to continue.

    But Mr Milosevic objected, saying that the witness had been removed as part of a court conspiracy against him.

    He argued that it was "impermissible" to allow Mr Zeqiri to leave prematurely after he had "told lies" in his testimony.

    But presiding judge Richard May said it was "pointless" to question someone feeling unwell.

    The development is being seen as another setback for the international war crimes tribunal, eight days into the unprecedented trial of a head of state on genocide charges.

    Judge May said the court would have to take into account Mr Zeqiri's inability to finish the cross-examination in weighing the value of his testimony.

    On Wednesday, Mr Milosevic succeeded in getting the court to exclude testimony from a war crimes investigator as it was based on stories told by other people.

    Dialysis

    Mr Zeqiri kept his back to Mr Milosevic throughout the exchange with Judge May, refusing the judge's request for him to stay for 10 more minutes.

    Click here for extracts from Mr Milosevic's defence

    Mr Zeqiri, aged 49, says he has been on dialysis since Serb forces beat him almost to death, damaging his kidneys.

    In his cross-examination, the former Yugoslav president sought to show that the people of Mr Zeqiri's village, Celina, were supporting rebels fighting for Kosovo's independence from Serbia.

    Prosecutors are expected to call other survivors of mass deportations and murder in Kosovo, to back their case that Mr Milosevic orchestrated Serb atrocities in the province.

    Mr Milosevic has stressed that the court would have to prove he ordered the crimes.

    Precedent

    But the tribunal has already convicted commanders on the basis that they knew, or should have known, about crimes by their subordinates and did nothing to prevent them.

    The hearing could last two years, with 350 witnesses set to be called by the UN.

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

    He rejects the legality of the court, but after refusing to co-operate during pre-trial hearings, he is now taking an active part in proceedings.

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

    The trial has now ended for the week and is due to resume on Monday.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan
    "The fourth witness was not at ease as he was grilled"
    See also:

    19 Feb 02 | Europe
    Kostunica attacks Milosevic trial
    18 Feb 02 | Europe
    Milosevic defence transcript
    14 Feb 02 | Europe
    Kosovo glee at Milosevic plight
    11 Feb 02 | Europe
    Milosevic allies still at large
    01 Feb 01 | Europe
    UN stands by Milosevic indictment
    19 Feb 02 | Europe
    The Milosevic case: Timeline
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