Milosevic defence resumes in The Hague trial

 

Slobodan Milosevic's defence resumed today as an appeals panel of the UN war crimes tribunal considers the former Yugoslav president's request to sack his court-appointed lawyer and let him represent himself again.

As Milosevic sat silently on the defendant's bench in The Hague, defence counsel, British lawyer Steven Kay, questioned a German journalist who testified that the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, provoked Serb forces into excessive responses during fighting in the late 1990s.

Former Yugoslav president Mr Slobodan Milosevic
Former Yugoslav president Mr Slobodan Milosevic

Mr Kay reluctantly took over the defence last month after the court ruled that Milosevic was too ill to defend himself. The British barrister, who had been watching the trial since it began in 2002, appealed that decision on Milosevic's behalf.

Milosevic is accused of unleashing Serb troops who committed atrocities while quashing a rebellion in Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia dominated by ethnic Albanians. Eventually Nato carried out a 78 day bombing campaign to force the Serbs to end the crackdown.

Milosevic has described the Kosovo war as a defensive action against terrorists.

The journalist Mr Franz Josef Hutsch, a former German army major, spent months as a reporter in 1998 and 1999 with the KLA, the rebel group that lead the resistance in Kosovo.

He said the KLA's tactics during the ceasefire in late 1998 included staging hit-and-run attacks on Serb patrols designed to "force them into a trap and  try to provoke an excessive reaction".

It was the first day of evidence after a month-long recess, during which both Mr Kay and the prosecution filed briefs to the appellate court on whether Milosevic should be allowed to lead his own defence again.

Mr Kay contended that Milosevic has a "fundamental right" to defend himself, while the prosecution argued that the repeated delays caused by Milosevic's  ill health defied the need for a speedy trial.

Medical reports have said Milosevic's chronic high blood pressure could become life threatening if he maintained the stress of defending himself, as he did during the trial's first two years.

It was not clear when the appeals court would hand down its decision, but in the meantime Kay was continuing the defence case, hampered by Milosevic's refusal to co-operate with him.

Dozens of witnesses Milosevic had planned to call have refused to testify unless the former Serb leader is allowed to question them himself.

Milosevic, 63, who led Serbia for 13 years until he was ousted in 2000, faces 66 counts of war crimes allegedly committed during the violent break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He could be imprisoned for life if convicted of any charge.