- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

THE HAGUE Former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic faces the start today of an expected two-year trial that could make him the first national leader ever convicted of crimes against humanity by an international court.

While the trial has stirred up some anger in Belgrade, where last weekend 5,000 demonstrators kissed posters of their fallen leader and demanded his release, it has been greeted with only mild satisfaction in the areas hardest hit by the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The prosecution is expected today to outline its contention that Mr. Milosevic deliberately engaged in a joint criminal enterprise.

The object of that enterprise, they say, was the forcible removal of most non-Serbs from one-third of Croatia and from much of Bosnia in order to form an ethnically pure Greater Serbia.

The first few months of the trial, and a substantial part of today's proceedings, are expected to focus on the more recent events in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 that led to NATO's intervention and the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the Yugoslav province.

The prosecution will outline what it contends were a series of murders and ethnic-cleansing operations that constituted a campaign of terror and violence directed at Kosovo ethnic-Albanian civilians.

After the prosecution masterminded by the outspoken Carla Del Ponte finishes, the most dramatic and revealing moment will come: Mr. Milosevic has the right to present his own arguments for an equal amount of time.

The man who ruled Yugoslavia from 1987 until his fall from power late in 2000 is expected to make the most of the televised world stage to purvey his unique brand of defiance and anti-Western rhetoric.

The court has allowed him free access to advisers, including a visit from former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and unlimited telephone calls to Belgrade, all of which are monitored. He is aided, whether he likes it or not, by three lawyers appointed by the court to ensure he gets a fair trial in spite of himself.

These lawyers, from Britain, the Netherlands and Serbia, have outlined their tactics in interviews with The Washington Times.

They expect Mr. Milosevic to seek a court order to compel world leaders such as former President Bill Clinton to give evidence, prompting the prosecution to respond that Mr. Clinton has no relevance to Mr. Milosevic's guilt or innocence. The lawyers will then offer their own arguments why Mr. Clinton should be called.

Their key role, they say, will be to put into context the evidence expected to be submitted by some 100 prospective witnesses.

"For example, when a witness claims Serbian forces shot at them or bombed them to make them flee, we would seek to point out that there was a group of anti-Serbian fighters in the vicinity that could have been the main target, not deliberate ethnic cleansing," said Dutch lawyer Misha Vladimiroff, speaking in his offices here.

The trial will start with a multitude of witnesses to killings and expulsions. Only after July will the prosecution attempt a more difficult task: to show a direct line of responsibility from Mr. Milosevic to the actions of the soldiers and paramilitaries.

It is here that the main prosecuting lawyer, Geoffrey Nice, a senior British trial lawyer, has had the most trouble. His recent trip to Belgrade and Kosovo is said to have produced very meager evidence from Serbian political and military figures, who remain loyal to Mr. Milosevic or resentful of international opprobrium.

In Vukovar, the city most heavily damaged in the three wars blamed on Mr. Milosevic, neither ethnic Serbs nor Croats evinced any sympathy for the fallen president, though for sharply different reasons.

"Better late than never," said Vedran, aged 21, a Croatian truck driver who gave only his first name. "But we need to see them arrest the actual generals who did the killing, and they are still being protected by the government in Belgrade."

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