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Milosevic Begins War Crimes Defense

Ex-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic began his defense against charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity before a United Nations court on Tuesday, denouncing the accusations as "unscrupulous lies."

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He's defending himself

Milosevic, who is acting as his own lawyer, told the court that he needed more than the 150 days allotted to him to cross-examine more than 1,600 witnesses whom he has said he intends to call to the stand.

Rejecting the prosecution's claim that he masterminded the bloody wars that tore apart the Yugoslav federation in the early 1990s, he said in his opening defence statement that the international community was "the main force for the destruction" of the country.

He also blamed "the NATO pact" for the conflict in Kosovo, a province of his native Serbia, where more than 10,000 people died and about 800,000 ethnic Albanians -- one-third of the population -- were expelled in 1988 and 1999.

Serbisches Haus brennt in Kosovo

A group of U.N. officals watch a burning Serbian house in the Serb village of Svinjare, south of Kosovska Mitrovica, Saturday March 20, 2004. All of the 130 houses as well as the Orthodox cemetery in the village have been looted and burnt by ethnic Albanians who attacked the village.

Milosevic faces a total of 60 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the 1991-95 war in Croatia, the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and the Kosovo campaign. He has also been charged with genocide and complicity in genocide, the gravest of war crimes, for the war in Bosnia, which left 200,000 people dead. He faces a life sentence if convicted.

Dressed in his customary dark blue suit and a red, blue and white striped tie -- the colors of the Yugoslav flag -- the 63-year-old former president told the three-judge tribunal: "In the international public for a long time an untruthful and distorted picture was created about what happened in Yugoslavia. The accusations against me are unscrupulous lies."

Milosevic was given four hours to present the outlines of his defense case but he said he would need two days.

"I would like to note that the other side (the prosecution) got three days to present their opening statement," he told the court.

Health concerns

After Milosevic completes his opening statement, the judges are expected to hold a procedural hearing to discuss his health problems, which have caused his trial to be adjourned 14 times since it began in February 2002.

The prosecution has urged the court to appoint a defense lawyer to act for Milosevic, who they accuse of "hijacking the trial to his agenda while stopping just short of obstructionism." But "friends of the court" -- lawyers appointed to ensure Milosevic gets a fair trial -- have warned that it would only add more stress if he were forced to take on a defense lawyer against his will.

Milosevic said during a procedural hearing that he planned to call British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and former US president Bill Clinton as witnesses. His advisors have confirmed only that former Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis and his former Russian counterpart, Yevgeny Primakov, would be called to testify. The first defence witness will be called on Sept. 7 but the court has not revealed who it will be.

Referring to the Kosovo conflict, where the prosecution alleges that Milosevic was individually responsible for "the campaign of terror and violence directed at Kosovo Albanian civilians", he said the real aggressors were "the NATO pact."

He also blamed the conflict on "external forces" which worked with "Ustasha extremists (Croat nationalists), Islamic fundamentalists and Albanian terrorists whose role was to be the detonator of the conflict."

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