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Milosevic Launches Vigorous Defence

Accused of genocide and war crimes, the former Yugoslav president ridicules the UN court as his lawless captor and launches a robust defence, aided by gory photographs of civilians killed by NATO bombs.


Fresh defiance

Slobodan Milosevic rushed forcefully to his own defence Thursday at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, calling into question the court's jurisdiction.

Finally taking the stage he has craved but been denied since his arrest and delivery to Tribunal custody by Yugoslavian police, Milosevic made much of his appearance in the Hague and, via airwaves, around the globe.

He spat insults at Carla del Ponte and her team of prosecutors, who on previous occasions have presented evidence and filed indictments, and he spared no disrespect for the judges of the Tribunal.

"What we have heard insults the intelligence of an average inhabitant of this planet," he said.

Reiterating threats to implicate US and NATO leaders in war crimes, and to reveal unsavoury aspects of their deal-making with his regime in Belgrade, Milosevic issued an ambiguous threat to call former US President Bill Clinton to the stand.

Turning to practical matters, he requested release from his tiny jail cell, calling himself "obviously" no flight risk, vowing to champion his honour, his family's and nation's honour, "to the end."

He drew onlookers' attention to the "unfairness" of the trial setting in which prosecutors, judges and media enjoy extensive resources for comfort and daily preparation, whereas the former president has "only a jail cell and a public telephone."

During all this, presiding Judge Richard May kept silent and glum-faced, scribbling occasional notes. In pre-trial hearings, May had sometimes turned off Milosevic's microphone when the former president questioned the Tribunal's authority and legality.

Del Ponte, the chief prosector, was similarly quiet apart from one moment when apparently out of exaspiration she broke into a grin.

Milosevic vor dem UN-Kriegsverbrechertribunal

All the tension of an ongoing war

Thursday's hearing was dramatic evidence of the total lack of progress yet made to bring Serbian perspectives in line with those of the United Nations, NATO and the Western powers who ultimately pounded Milosevic into submission with bombs in 1999 but who have still not won the confidence of many Serbians.

Many in Begrade said during trial proceedings that they, like the leader they enthusiastically and violently overthrew in 2000, see the Tribunal as a sham.

The two sides of the war endure, unreconciled, and Milosevic did his utmost to start casting doubt on the winning side's authority to enforce an unprecedented international legal penalty on the leader of the losing side.

Both sides suffered casualties, he reminded onlookers.

The day's greatest surprise was the vigor, focus and pictorial nature of Milosevic's opening presentation, in which photographs of awful sights – including one showing the decapitated head of a man Milosevic said was a Serb civilian of NATO bombing.

In perhaps more vivid terms than anyone could have predicted, and with the keen knowledge of an insider, Milosevic described the wars in which he played an instigating role as Yugoslavia fell apart.

Starkly and with fury in his voice, Milosevic recounted a serious of explosions of barbarity in which individuals and groups conducted viciously criminal operations, but during which, he said, he upheld his "duty" to defend Yugoslavia against "terrorism" and its violent disintegration.

This trial has been easier for the Tribunal to initiate than it will be for prosecutors to win.

Observers say this remarkable spectacle – wars once played out on battlefields and in the skies above, now played out again in the courtroom – may last as long as two years.

The implications for the future form and meaning of "international justice" are huge.

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