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Europe

War, Lies and Videotape

A German documentary film took centre stage in court, as Slobodan Milosevic used it to suggest his innocence during the Kosovo war, but the producers refute his assertion.

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Live from the Hague, in Belgrade

Slobodan Milosevic began his statement before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia by playing a documentary film.

The film is called "It Began with a Lie", and the "it" in its title is the Kosovo war. But according to the film’s producers, Milosevic began his statement with a lie of his own, using the film to false ends.

German WDR Television’s film focuses on the small Kosovar town of Racak. It shows interviews with people who said the killings of Kosovo Albanians at Racak early in 1999 – referred to by prosecutors in their opening remarks – had been used as a pretext for NATO bombings.

Though standing by his regional station’s journalistic product, WDR editor Jörg Schönenborn told the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that Milosevic used the documentary in a "shameless" performance, Reuters reported.

"I would like to show a video first and then start speaking after that," the former Yugoslav leader said on Thursday at the start of his trial’s third day.

Charged with genocide in the 1992-95 Bosnian war and crimes against humanity in Croatia in 1991-2 and Kosovo in 1999, Milosevic has during his opening remarks used the courtroom as a stage to plead his innocence while accusing NATO and his former Yugoslav enemies of war crimes and genocide.

Of critical importance Thursday was Milosevic’s claim, contrary to Tribunal prosecutors’ assertions, that he had been deceived by Bosnian Serb allies, who lied to him about the existence of concentration camps and instead described to him lawful detention of war prisoners..

Friday’s hearing

In his second day of opening remarks, Milosevic stayed on the offensive.

He has the right to call witnesses, and though there is no guarantee that potential witnesses will co-operate with his request, he threatened Friday to call world leaders who played important roles in Yugoslavia during his time as president. He named as potential witnesses "Clinton and Albright, Kinkel and Schröder and Kohl and Dini... Kofi Annan (and) Blair."

In so doing, Milosevic has threatened to turn the Tribunal’s proceedings into a long-running tit-for-tat, during which prosecutors accuse him of brutality and he retaliates by accusing other world leaders of the same.

The risk for the Tribunal is less that Milosevic can convince onlookers of the innocence that he claims, but that he can convince them others’ guilt will go unpunished, merely because they "won" the wars.

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