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Milosevic Trial Halts Amid Thorny Dilemmas

September 16, 2004|From Associated Press

THE HAGUE — Just two weeks after resuming former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's trial, the U.N. war crimes tribunal adjourned Wednesday for a month to allow his frustrated court-appointed lawyer to prepare a case stymied by reluctant witnesses and an uncooperative defendant.

Steven Kay, who was assigned to lead the defense over Milosevic's objections, told the three judges that 20 defense witnesses had refused to appear in court -- among them, ambassadors, politicians and professors from the United States and elsewhere. Many have refused to testify unless the ousted Serb leader takes charge of his own case.

"Groups of witnesses have banded together and have stated they are not prepared, under the conditions of the assignment of counsel, to come to the tribunal and testify," Kay told the panel.

Kay has appealed to the court to let Milosevic, 63, resume his defense, but the judges stood by an earlier ruling that he is medically unfit to conduct his own case, as he had done since the trial opened more than 2 1/2 years ago.

Milosevic has refused to meet Kay or his assistant, Gillian Higgins, or give them instructions. He denied encouraging his supporters to stay away, and said they had reached their decisions independently.

In court, Milosevic read a letter from James Bissett, who was Canada's ambassador to Yugoslavia when the Balkan wars erupted in the early 1990s, saying the trial "had taken on all the characteristics of a Stalinist show trial."

"I do not wish to appear," Bissett wrote in the letter. "I have from the outset had serious misgivings about the legitimacy of the tribunal." He wrote that the tribunal, created by the U.N. Security Council in 1993, "is a political court rather than a judicial body operating in the interests of truth and justice."

Contacted in Canada, Bissett confirmed the accuracy of the letter.

Milosevic also read from a letter he said was written by another potential witness, former U.S. diplomat George Kenney, in which Kenney said he would appear at The Hague only if Milosevic were allowed to conduct his own defense.

"I believed then, as I believe now, that you are innocent of the charges in the indictment," Milosevic quoted Kenney as having written. The letter from Kenney, who resigned in 1992 as head of the State Department's Yugoslavia desk, could not immediately be confirmed.

Milosevic faces 66 counts of war crimes for his alleged criminal role in atrocities committed during the violent breakup of the former Yugoslav federation in the 1990s. He could be sentenced to life in prison on any count.

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