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Milosevic Launches Defense at Trial

Before a U.N. tribunal, the former Yugoslav leader remains defiant in the face of war crimes charges and aims to shift blame for atrocities.

September 01, 2004|From Associated Press

THE HAGUE — Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Tuesday launched a defiant defense of his conduct during the Balkan wars, accusing his enemies of conspiracies against the Serbs.

Milosevic sought to shift blame for atrocities and portray the United Nations war crimes tribunal here as a tool of a U.S.-supported plot to bring about the breakup of Yugoslavia in fighting that left more than 200,000 people dead.

Seated alone at the defense table, Milosevic spoke with swagger and sarcasm.

"Accusations leveled against me are an unscrupulous lie and also a tireless distortion of history," Milosevic said. "Everything has been presented in a lopsided manner to protect those who are truly responsible."

It was the first time that he had been allowed to speak without interruption since his trial began 2 1/2 years ago, and he signaled that he would mount a highly political rather than legal defense.

Milosevic unleashed a stream of invective against those he held responsible for Serbia's torment: Croatia, which he accused of genocide against its Serbian minority; the United States and Europe, for allegedly seeking Yugoslavia's destruction; Islamic fundamentalists, for supporting Muslim "terrorists" in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo; and the Vatican, which he said sought the supremacy of Roman Catholicism in the Balkans over the Orthodox Church.

"They call themselves the 'international community,' but in the territory of Yugoslavia -- Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo -- they supported a totalitarian chauvinist elite, terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists, neo-Nazis, whose objective was an ethnically pure state. That is to say, a state without any Serbs," he said.

Milosevic, who was extradited by Serbia to U.N. authority in The Hague in June 2001, faces 66 counts of war crimes allegedly committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s.

He could be jailed for life if convicted on any charge.

Prosecutors accuse Milosevic of orchestrating or condoning killings, the destruction of towns and places of worship, and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people in an effort to create an ethnically pure "greater Serbia" stretching across Yugoslavia's former republics.

Milosevic was to have opened his defense after the conclusion of the prosecution's case in February.

But that was postponed five times as doctors warned that stress was raising his blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Denying the legitimacy of his judges, Milosevic said the U.N. Security Council had acted illegally when it created the Yugoslav tribunal in 1993, calling it another tool of Western powers who were aligned against him.

He spent only a few minutes addressing the accusations against him.

Instead, he aired his version of the wars and the tortuous history of the Balkans during which the Serbs were consistently victimized, he said.

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