- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

THE HAGUE In a four-hour verbal battle yesterday, Slobodan Milosevic dismissed the first witness in his war crimes trial as a liar and defended Serbian police actions in Kosovo as a fight against terrorism.

During cross-examination, Mr. Milosevic sought to discredit Mahmut Bakalli, an ethnic Albanian politician who claimed the former Yugoslav president coldly destroyed Kosovo and was responsible for thousands of deaths in the province.

Mr. Milosevic, the first former head of state to be charged with war crimes committed while in office, is accused of crimes against humanity in Kosovo and Croatia, and of genocide in Bosnia during the 1991-99 Balkan wars.

He could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted on any one of 66 counts.

Although a law graduate, Mr. Milosevic never practiced law until he became his own defense attorney at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. He has refused to recognize the court, claiming it is an instrument of Western powers that want to destroy him and his nation.

At times sarcastic, Mr. Milosevic engaged in heated exchanges with Mr. Bakalli, trying to catch him in contradictions.

He also highlighted Mr. Bakalli's links with Kosovo Albanian rebels, arguing that he was too biased to be a reliable witness.

In one exchange, Mr. Milosevic asked whether the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army was disarmed when international peacekeeping forces arrived in 1999.

"Yes, it was disarmed," Mr. Bakalli said.

"Then, what are they firing with now?" Mr. Milosevic asked, claiming 3,000 Serbs have been killed in Kosovo by "terrorists" since the arrival of the NATO-led troops.

"Arms can be purchased in Kosovo freely," Mr. Bakalli said.

"Do you know about drug trafficking in Kosovo?" Mr. Milosevic asked.

"No," said Mr. Bakalli.

"Do you know about arms smuggling in Kosovo?" Mr. Milosevic asked.

"No, that doesn't exist," said Mr. Bakalli.

"But you said a moment ago that weapons can be purchased freely in Kosovo," Mr. Milosevic countered.

Milosevic's cross-examination drew praise from some legal experts.

"What we have seen this morning was a very, very forceful, vigorous cross-examination," said Richard Dicker of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

He said Mr. Milosevic's ability to attack a witness's credibility is "a benchmark of fair trial … for any accused in any court."

In Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, Toma Fila, a lawyer who worked with Mr. Milosevic, said Mr. Bakalli "came ill-prepared and used incorrect facts in his testimony."

He said Mr. Milosevic "blasted to shreds his testimony, knocked him out completely."

However, Mr. Fila called Mr. Milosevic's courtroom tactics an "improvisation," which "is not good in the long run."

In his most damaging testimony, Mr. Bakalli told the court Monday that in 1998, Mr. Milosevic admitted knowing about a Serbian massacre of more than 40 members of an ethnic Albanian family in the village of Prekaz.

He said Mr. Milosevic defended the police action as a fight against terrorists.

Mr. Milosevic could be convicted of war crimes for failing to prevent such atrocities committed by the Serbian security forces, which were under his command.


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