Wed, Jul 04, 2001 - Page 1 News List

`Butcher of the Balkans' goes to court

DEFIANCE When asked to enter a plea, former president of Yugoslavia Slobodon Milosevic chose instead to tell the judges at the UN war crimes tribunal that it is an `illegal' body

REUTERS , THE HAGUE

PHOTO: REUTERS

Caged but defiant, Slobodan Milosevic told the UN war crimes court in The Hague yesterday it was an "illegal" body set up by his Western enemies and refused to enter a plea on charges of crimes against humanity.

Making his first court appearance since being spirited out of Belgrade five days ago, the ousted Yugoslav president refused to cooperate with Richard May, the British judge chairing the three-man bench. Ever a master of surprise, he had even declined to appoint defense counsel in a show of contempt for the court.

The judges entered not guilty pleas on all four counts for him. Tribunal spokesmen said Milosevic's tactics would not prevent the case going to trial and further charges, including genocide, could still be brought. The next hearing was set for late August but the trial is not likely to start until next year.

"I consider this tribunal a false tribunal and the indictment a false indictment," Milosevic said, head held high, in calm, accented English. He declined to use the translator's black headphones familiar from past war crimes trials.

"It is illegal, being not appointed by the UN General Assembly. So I have no need to appoint counsel to an illegal organ," added Milosevic, who graduated in law 37 years ago.

"This trial's aim is to produce false justification for the war crimes of NATO committed in Yugoslavia."

History had been made when the four charges were read out -- Milosevic is the first head of state ever indicted before an international court for war crimes while still in office. He could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

After urging him to appoint a lawyer, May asked if the fiery Serb nationalist wanted to hear the full indictment on three counts of crimes against humanity -- including mass murder and deportation -- and one of breaching the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war during ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999.

Removing his hands from his chin in a gesture of bored contempt, Milosevic drawled in English: "That's your problem."

Having asked how he would plead, May cut off a new stream of invective against NATO and the tribunal. "Mr Milosevic, this is not the time for speeches," he said with cut-glass English politeness.

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