- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

THE HAGUE In a courtroom victory for Slobodan Milosevic, the U.N. war-crimes tribunal excluded testimony yesterday from the prosecution's senior investigator, saying it was based on inadmissible hearsay.

Kevin Curtis, the prosecution's chief war-crimes investigator for Kosovo, was due to testify about "the killing sites" where thousands of Kosovo Albanians reportedly were murdered by Serbian forces during the 1999 war in the province. But the judges ruled his testimony would be irrelevant, since he was repeating stories he had heard from others.

Mr. Milosevic chided the prosecution for preparing what he said were hundreds more such statements.

"You will probably get down to the prosecutor's driver or a hairdresser," Mr. Milosevic said, before Richard May, the presiding judge, cut him short: "Mr. Milosevic, we are with you. We are going to exclude it."

The former Yugoslav president was not able, however, to halt the testimony of a Kosovo Albanian farmer who escaped death when Serbs killed 16 members of his family.

Nevertheless, he did wring concessions from his accusers that anti-Serb guerrillas were active in Kosovo, suggesting that Serbian forces were engaged in legitimate operations against "terrorists."

Agim Zeqiri, from the village of Celina, told the U.N. war crimes tribunal that he hid in a ditch as Serbian forces ransacked and torched his village in the 1999 crackdown.

Mr. Zeqiri, 49, said Serbian police and soldiers killed nearly his entire family, including his 18-month-old baby. He later was caught and beaten, but managed to flee to Albania.

"I didn't know anything about my family when I fled," Mr. Zeqiri said. He spent nearly two weeks recovering in a hospital after the Serbs "kicked me in the kidneys and made me an invalid."

He first heard of his family's fate when his cousin phoned him from Germany. "He called me and said: 'Be brave because your family and my family have all been killed.'"

Returning home, he found his livestock dead and his home pillaged. "I didn't find anything there. It was all gone," the witness said. "They had burned all the best homes."

By presenting so-called crime-scene testimony, prosecutors sought to establish a foundation of fact for their case that Mr. Milosevic had ultimate responsibility for illegal actions by Serbian forces.

The prosecution says Serbian forces, formally under Mr. Milosevic's command, murdered thousands of ethnic Albanians and deported 800,000 during a crackdown in the Serbian province, which prompted a 78-day bombing campaign by NATO against Yugoslavia in 1999.

War crimes in Kosovo comprise the first of three indictments Mr. Milosevic faces, and he is the only suspect brought to trial for crimes in that province. He also is accused of crimes against humanity in Croatia and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He could be sentenced to life if found guilty of any one of 66 counts.

Mr. Milosevic was confident that prosecutors would be unable to link the crimes in Kosovo to his government.

"You will have to have concrete evidence that I ordered the perpetrators of those crimes to carry them out. Otherwise, what sense and meaning do these spots in which the people were killed have to do with the accusations against me?" he said.

A second witness from the prosecution team, intelligence analyst Stephen Spargo, displayed a series of maps showing reported deportation routes by Kosovo Albanians.

Cross-examining Mr. Spargo, Mr. Milosevic asked whether he knew 100,000 Serbs left Kosovo at the same time, trying to support his contention that people fled from the NATO bombing, not from Serbian forces. Mr. Spargo answered that he had not been assigned to document Serbian displacements.

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