- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

THE HAGUE Prosecutors opened their war-crimes case against Slobodan Milosevic with soaring rhetoric and a litany of horrors yesterday, accusing the fomer Serbian stongman of orchestrating "medieval savagery" in three Balkan wars.

It also emerged that prosecutors possess previously top-secret military and political documents that appear to show Mr. Milosevic's direct involvement in decision-making by Serbian separatists in Croatia and Bosnia.

"It's not quite the smoking-gun document that says, 'Drive them all out, signed Slobo,'" said Richard Dicker, international justice director of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, who has observed all five pretrial hearings here.

"But it's most surprising and encouraging that they have documents so closely linking Milosevic with what went on in both places."

The documents are meant to bolster the prosecution's case that Mr. Milosevic was responsible for extensive killings, ethnic cleansing and the targeting of civilians for bombardment.

"Beyond the nationalist pretext and the horror of ethnic cleansing, behind the grandiloquent rhetoric and the hackneyed phrases, the search for power is what motivated Slobodan Milosevic," chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said in crowded courtroom presided over by three scarlet-robed judges.

Accusing Mr. Milosevic of numerous atrocities, including ethnic cleansing, murder and genocide against Bosnian Muslims, she said, "Some of the incidents revealed an almost medieval savagery and a calculated cruelty that went far beyond the bounds of legitimate warfare."

The prosecution was expected to complete its opening statement today, after which Mr. Milosevic will formally address the court for the first time.

"He will speak out against each allegation point by point," said Dragolsav Ogdjadovic, one of two Belgrade-based attorneys who are advising Mr. Milosevic.

It is not clear, though, if during an estimated 18 months of courtroom combat he will cross-examine prosecution witnesses or call any of his own.

Mrs. Del Ponte insisted that the trial was directed against one man, not an entire people. That was an effort to assuage widespread Serbian public opinion that regards the trial as another international effort to victimize and stigmatize the Serbian nation.

However, Vladimir Krsljanin, sent by Mr. Milosevic's Socialist Party to monitor the trial, claimed last night that the prosecution had in desperation "painted an absurd picture of Milosevic's career."

One secret document cited by the prosecuting attorney showed that the separatist Serbian leadership in Croatia had been in touch daily with Mr. Milosevic on what it called a "special line."

Minutes of another meeting stated that Mr. Milosevic was advising the same leadership not to take part in an election and giving other advice or instructions. The document said he was "angry" with leaders of the breakaway Serbian Krajina republic for not consulting him on one step.

The prosecution also quoted intercepted telephone conversations. In one of these, recorded in 1991, Mr. Milosevic is heard to demand daily contact with separatist Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who reportedly called him "Boss," and to declare that if the largest ethnic group in Bosnia, the Muslims, persisted with plans to fight, "they will lose and it will be a pleasure for us."

The source of the telephone intercepts was not revealed, though they may have been picked up by Croatian military intelligence. Transcripts of private conversations between Mr. Milosevic and his family, reportedly recorded while his plane flew near Croatian territory, were published last week in a Belgrade newspaper.

Their content was hardly political, though. The main revelation was that Mr. Milosevic advised his son, a businessman, not to have an operation to reduce or flatten his protruding ears.

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