Milosevic trial may be precedent for Hussein's day in court

Though health troubles have again delayed his scheduled court appearance Wednesday, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is expected to deliver a blustery defense of his alleged war crimes. His trial, observers say, may hold lessons for the prosecution of other former leaders, such as Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Sources close to Mr. Milosevic say that his defense strategy will involve grilling former Western leaders, including Bill Clinton. Milosevic will turn the tables and accuse the West of war crimes during the 78-day NATO bombing campaign that drove his forces from Kosovo in 1999.

"The strategy will be an attack," says Uros Suvakovic, vice president of Sloboda, a group of Milosevic supporters.

Mr. Suvakovic says that Milosevic will call some 1,600 witnesses, including Mr. Clinton, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"The truth about what happened on the territory of the former Yugoslavia can't be discovered unless these people show up in court," Suvakovic says.

Sloboda has raised about 23,000 euros to aid the former president's defense from its offices in Belgrade, where Milosevic smiles with his grandson Marko on a wall calendar titled "Freedom for Slobodan."

Prosecutors have painted Milosevic as a Balkan butcher who masterminded genocide, crimes against humanity, and war violations while presiding over the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Milosevic's trial, which has been called Europe's most important war-crimes effort since the Nuremburg trials against Nazi leaders, has been subject to endless delays. Nearly 70 trial days have been lost due to Milosevic's ill health. A court-appointed doctor said last month that he was in danger of a heart attack.

Stress from running his own defense against 66 different charges has exacerbated his condition. The tribunal is considering appointing a lawyer to represent him so that he can wrap up his defense in the 150 trial days required by the tribunal.

One of Milosevic's three legal advisers scoffs at the idea, saying that the accused are allowed to defend themselves.

"If they want ... to put some official defense counsel into the courtroom, it's a violation of their own rules," says Dragoslav Ognjanovic.

The sheer number of charges is another reason for the trial's length. Prosecutors brought charges against Milosevic for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war in Kosovo in 1999. That case took just seven months.

But in 2001, prosecutors also charged him with war crimes in the Croatia and Bosnia wars, including the heaviest charge - genocide against Muslims - in the Bosnia indictment. The genocide charge mostly stems from the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed after Bosnian Serb forces overran what had been declared a UN "safe area." Prosecutors have also tried to prove that genocide occurred at a half-dozen other locations during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Judith Armatta, a trial monitor for the Coalition for International Justice in The Hague, says that because Milosevic could argue that he knew nothing about Srebrenica, the other locations could mean more for the prosecution's case.

She says it may be hard to prove that he gave orders during the war in Bosnia.

"It's a tricky one, because he wasn't the president of Bosnia and the commander-in-chief of those armies, but there has been evidence that he had significant influence and some control," she says.

Another trial watcher says that the prosecution's piling on of charges and scramble for witnesses could have ramifications for future trials of leaders.

"That's a lesson for the Saddam [Hussein] trial," says Chris Stephens, author of "Judgment Day: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic." "You don't go into something until you've got all your ducks in a row."

Already, the Iraqis plan to issue fewer indictments and call fewer witnesses than the Hague tribunal. Mr. Hussein will also be tried in Baghdad, not in a European city far from the scene of the crimes.

The case against Milosevic still divides locals. Many Serbs still consider Hague indictees heroes. Muslims and Srebrenica survivors question the tribunal's efficacy.

Sabaheta Fejzic last saw her son nine years ago, just before he was taken away by the Bosnian Serb forces in the area. She marked the anniversary of the massacre July 11 along with 20,000 other people by attending the burials of more than 300 victims at a memorial outside Srebrenica.

"We are partially satisfied - if the Hague tribunal didn't exist, the criminals wouldn't be arrested or tried for the genocide they committed," she says. "But we don't agree that the tribunal only deals with the 'big fish' - the commanders. For us it's very important that the ordinary Serbs - our neighbors, our friends, our children's friends, the ones who directly killed our loved ones - be tried."

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