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Newsnight Friday, 26 July, 2002, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Milosevic witnesses' frustration

July 26 has been a crucial day in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

Back in his prison cell, just outside the Hague, he'll be considering how he's been doing so far, as the war crimes tribunal adjourns for its month-long summer break.

He'll no doubt be concerned by the warning yesterday from Judge Richard May that he's at risk of a heart attack, but he has refused to let anyone else conduct the defence, in front of a court that he refuses to recognise.

"This entire matter is a farce", he said, "I have no intention of appointing counsels for a non-existent court.."

Whatever Milosevic may claim, this is the most important war crimes trial since Nazi leaders appeared at Nuremberg after the Second World War, and he has taken his defence very seriously.

Criticism

Just over 100 witnesses have been called thus far, as the prosecution seeks to show that the massacres in Kosovo were conducted with his "encouragement and support", and that he was aware of what was going on.

But there has been some criticism of the prosecution for taking up much of the limited time allocated to the case with stories of the massacres themselves.

This has brought extraordinary - and frustrating - experiences for Kosovo villagers like Sadiq Januzi, a farmer who is now in his early Seventies.

Back on March 28, 1999, Januzi was in the little village of Izbica, where he and several thousand others had fled to escape from Serb attacks.

Serb forces surrounded the village, and separated him, and the other men who were present, from the women and children.

The men were then forced to walk up a hill to be shot. Januzi miraculously survived by throwing himself to the ground as the shooting started, to be hidden beneath the bodies of others.

Returning to the spot for the first time, he showed me where he had fallen, and where he had crawled off into the woods to hide.

He then described the unnerving challenge he faced just over three years later, when he was called to the Hague to give evidence at Milosevic's trial.

It was not an easy experience. Sadiq's evidence was presented as a written statement, and for most of the hour he spent in court, he was cross-examined by Milosevic.

He complained he had no chance to talk about the massacre.

He said: "I would have been happier if they had let me speak about what I had experienced."

Kicked and beaten

There were similar complaints from other witnesses. Milazim Thaci, a cousin of the KLA leader Hasim Thaci, complained: "I was not pleased that he questioned us instead of us accusing and questioning him."

Conducting his defence, Milosevic has answered witnesses with furious denials, lectures and sometimes ridicule. He's tried to belittle anyone from Paddy Ashdown to the former US Ambassador William Walker.

The Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt is confident though. He told Newsnight: "I believe that at the end of the prosecution case we would be able to establish the accused's responsibility for the crimes that we allege against him in the indictment."

Those who survived the massacres in Kosovo, and then had to face cross-examination from Milosevic at the Hague, will hope that he is right.

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Newsnight's Robin Denselow
Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial

At The Hague

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12 Feb 02 | Europe
26 Jul 02 | Europe

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