Thu, May 22, 2003 - Page 6 News List

War crimes trial gets more time to prove genocide

TRIBUNAL The case against former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic has been strengthened by the arrest of senior figures in the post-communist regime


More than a year into the biggest war crimes trial since the end of World War II, judges in the Hague gave the prosecution 100 more days on Tuesday to make the case for genocide against Slobodan Milosevic.

The prospects for a successful prosecution of the former Serbian leader have shifted dramatically in recent weeks because of the smashing of his information and loyalist networks in Belgrade and the arrest of senior figures in the Serbian regime of the 1990s.

The extension granted Tuesday to Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the UN's international war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia, is likely to herald further courtroom revelations.

She will be trying to seal her argument that Milosevic was personally responsible for the genocide in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, and for crimes against humanity in Croatia and Kosovo.

He can expect to be jailed for life if convicted. The prosecution case was to have ended this month, but Del Ponte pleaded for a further six months because of time lost through the defendant's repeated absences from court because of illness. The judges refused, but agreed to 100 days before Milosevic can start his defense.

The new deadline will probably force the prosecutors to scale down their plans to bring a further 100 witnesses.

In a written ruling Tuesday, the judges said: "The trial chamber has come to the conclusion that it would be in the interests of justice to allow some variation in the time limit to allow the prosecution more time to call further witnesses it regards as essential."

The circumstances of the Milosevic case have been transformed by the assassination two months ago of the man who overthrew him in October 2000, Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic.

According to the Serb authorities, the assassination was plotted by underworld bosses and Milosevic loyalists in the security services, bound together by their hatred of the Hague tribunal and fears that they might end up before its judges if Djindjic lived.

In the purges and mass arrests after the murder, some of Milosevic's closest acolytes were held and questioned. His influential wife, Mirjana Markovic, fled to Moscow to avoid arrest.

She joined her gangster son and Milosevic's brother, a businessman and ex-diplomat.

The detention and interrogation of about 10,000 people lifted the lid on the political crimes of the Milosevic era and may have implications for the trial.

Two of Milosevic's closest former security aides, the paramilitary leader Franko Simatovic and the former state security chief Jovica Stanisic, were also arrested in Belgrade. They were indicted by the Hague and are awaiting transfer to the Netherlands.

Stanisic was an intimate of Milosevic and one of the most powerful men in Serbia during the 1990s. But he split from Milosevic in 1998 over Kosovo and may be persuaded to give evidence against his former boss.

Stanisic has repeatedly made it known that he accepts the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

Some trial watchers believe that the destruction of the Milosevic loyalist network and the severing of his family's links to Belgrade will make the former president's defense more difficult.

Ironically, the three main suspects in the Djindjic murder helped the former prime minister in the arrest of Milosevic in 2001. Two of them were shot dead soon after the murder, and the third, the prime suspect, is on the run.

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