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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 18:04 GMT
Analysis: Proving genocide

By Gabriel Partos
The BBC's south-east Europe analyst

Election posters showing former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic's trial is likely to go on until at least 2006

It was nearly two years ago - in February 2002 - that Slobodan Milosevic went on trial on a range of charges involving war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The prosecution feels that it has made a good case relating to war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed by Serbian forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo during the conflicts of the 1990s.

But genocide, the most serious of the charges, may be more difficult to prove.

So far there has been only one conviction for genocide - that of the Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic.

He was found guilty in relation to the massacre of around 7,500 Bosnian Muslims after the fall in July 1995 of the north-eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.

Key requirement

General Krstic is awaiting the outcome of his appeal.

Mr Milosevic's involvement in the Srebrenica killings will be far more difficult to prove than that of General Krstic, who was the commander of the Bosnian Serb army corps that captured Srebrenica.

One key requirement is to establish that Mr Milosevic - who as President of Serbia at the time had no formal authority over the Bosnian Serb forces - exercised de facto control over them.

The first witness since the trial resumed this year, Serb journalist Nenad Zafirovic, has testified about his reporting of the abortive peace talks in Geneva in 1993.

General Wesley Clark
General Wesley Clark's evidence could prove telling

He said that in private the Bosnian Serb leaders referred to Mr Milosevic as the "Big Boss" or "Big Daddy", making it quite clear that he was their paramount leader.

However, it is by no means clear that Mr Milosevic had the same degree of authority over them later on at the time of the Srebrenica killings.

From that perspective, the pre-Christmas testimony of US General Wesley Clark has more relevance.

General Clark, who met Mr Milosevic in 1995 in the run-up to what turned into the US-sponsored Dayton peace talks, said in his testimony that back in 1995 Mr Milosevic told him that he had warned the Bosnian Serbs against any atrocities at Srebrenica.

Mr Milosevic denied having said that - which would have implied foreknowledge of the massacre.

Cross-examination

But even failure to prevent the massacre - if, indeed, that had been in Mr Milosevic's power - may not suffice to convict him on charges of genocide, which normally involve a specific intent to eradicate a group of people.

Barring any unforeseen events - such as another of Mr Milosevic's frequent bouts of illness - the prosecution should now complete its case by the middle of February.

There would then be a break of three months to allow time for the accused to prepare his defence.

Mr Milosevic will then have the same amount of time at his disposal that the prosecution has had to present its case - in other words, two years.

A large part of that time was spent by Mr Milosevic cross-examining the prosecution witnesses.

So the trial of the century, as some have dubbed it, could go on until May 2006 - and possibly longer.




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