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Milosevic refuses to plead on war crimes

Switzerland's Carla del Ponte has led the campaign to bring Slobodan Milosevic to justice

(swissinfo.ch)

The former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, has refused to enter a plea at the United Nations war crimes tribunal. He appeared in the Hague court on Tuesday for the first time to answer charges brought by the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Switzerland's Carla del Ponte.

Milosevic told the court that it was an "illegal" body, and refused to enter a plea on charges of crimes against humanity. The presiding judge, Richard May, said he would treat Milosevic's refusal as a "not guilty" plea.

Milosevic also refused to be represented by legal counsel in the court, saying: "This trial's aim is to produce a false justification for the war crimes committed by Nato in Yugoslavia."

The ten-minute arraignment hearing was an important one for del Ponte, who led the lengthy international campaign to bring Milosevic to justice for crimes against humanity in Kosovo.

During the hearing, Judge May repeatedly asked Milosevic to reconsider his decision not to appoint defence counsel. He said the new hearing would be in the week starting August 27, although tribunal officials said an earlier date was possible.

Suicide watch

Milosevic was finally extradited to the Netherlands at the end of last week after the Serbian government gave the go-ahead for his deportation. He had been held in jail in Belgrade since April 1.

Since arriving in The Hague, Milosevic has been under 24-hour suicide watch. Del Ponte is said to be concerned that he may try to take his own life, as both his father and his mother have done.

Despite his imprisonment, Milosevic has repeatedly challenged the validity of the court, as he did on Tuesday.

The former president and four senior aides stand accused of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. In particular they are charged with responsibility for the mass deportation of 740,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and the murder of 500 named Albanians.

During the hearing, Judge May asked Milosevic whether he wanted the 32-page indictment read out to him. Milosevic responded by saying: "That is your problem."

May then decided not to read out the indictment, which reads: "Beginning in January 1999 and continuing until June 20 1999, Slobodan Milosevic, Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic and Vlajko Stojiljkovic planned, instigated, ordered committed or otherwise aided and abetted in a campaign of terror and violence directed at Kosovo Albanian civilians."

It lists several cases of alleged mass killings by Yugoslav and Serbian forces, including massacres in the villages of Velika Krusa and Mali Krusa in March 1999.

"Village residents took refuge in a forested area outside Velika Krusa... where they were able to observe the police systematically looting and then burning the villagers' houses," the indictment alleges. It claims that some 105 Kosovo Albanian men and boys were either shot dead or died in the fires.

swissinfo with agencies


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