ANALYSIS: Milosevic Feels the Heat

More health problems for the former Serb president as military witnesses testify

ANALYSIS: Milosevic Feels the Heat

More health problems for the former Serb president as military witnesses testify

While it's debatable whether courtroom events have led to the deterioration in Slobodan Milosevic's health, the testimony of a Yugoslav private and a British colonel unquestionably sent his blood pressure soaring last week.

After the two gave evidence, the detention unit's doctor recommended a two-day pause in the trial "to alter Milosevic's medication and regulate his blood pressure".

The Yugoslav private - a Montenegrin Muslim - took the stand under the name K-32 and his face was concealed during his testimony. The British colonel appeared under his full name of John Crossland although his image was electronically altered, most probably because he remains in, or has returned to, service somewhere in Yugoslavia. At the time of the events described in Kosovo indictment, Crossland was British military attache in Belgrade.

Their evidence is significant as each individually corroborated the testimonies of dozens of victims and eye-witnesses who earlier in the trial described the deportations, killings, devastation of cities, villages and cultural monuments and other forms of violence that the indictment says Kosovo Albanians experienced in the first half of 1999.

Although many of these victims and eye-witnesses undermined their credibility by claiming they "knew nothing" of the activities of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, their evidence did contain enough elements to conclude that the events described in the indictment really happened and that they followed certain patterns.

This, the prosecution says, indicates the coordinated and systematic character of the events described in the indictment.

Although the pattern of events applied in cities and villages slightly differed, what they had in common was the disproportionate and non-selective use of force against civilians. This was also the common element in the testimonies of the Yugoslav private and the British colonel, both of whom took part in these events or observed them - albeit from very different perspectives.

Private K-32 described several "cleansing operations" that his Yugoslav Army, VJ, unit took part in during 1998 and 1999. K-32 was an army truck driver in Kosovo and most of the time he transported food and water to the units, though at least once he ferried the bodies of Kosovo Albanians killed in "a cleansing operation".

His description of these operations was a mirror image of the testimonies of victims and eye-witnesses on the receiving end. "A combat group" of VJ soldiers approaching a village earmarked for "cleansing" would halt about 200-300 metres away and fire a tank shell at the nearest house.

When the civilians tried to escape, infantry units were ordered to enter. On at least one occasion, Private K-32 was present when the unit commander, Colonel Bozidar Delic, instructed his soldiers to do their best "not to leave any survivors".

On entering the village, the troops and policemen, who usually joined forces for these "cleansing operations", went from house to house, killing anyone they found - this witness said most victims were women, children and old men as the younger men had usually escaped before the attack - and looting and burning the houses. Private K-32 said once he was ordered to set a house and a bus on fire, which he did.

The testimony of K-32 abounded with grisly details of prisoners or civilians who tried to surrender and had their ears cut off; of the piles of women's and children's bodies he found in the courtyard of an Albanian house; and of the baby shot in the head so that the same bullet also killed its mother.

After the first "cleansing operation" in which he took part, K-32 returned to Montenegro on leave, during which he decided not to return to Kosovo. The army ordered him to return and sent 15 military policemen to escort him back. After 20 days in prison, he was returned to his unit in Kosovo, where he soon found himself in the middle of NATO air strikes and more Serb brutality against Albanian villages.

In his cross-examination, the defendant tried to use this latter part of the account to denigrate the witness as a "deserter" whose only motive was to take revenge on his commander, Colonel Delic, to alleviate his feelings of shame and hatred. The witness denied this, and the judges also showed no sympathy for this line of questioning.

When facing private K-32, Milosevic again disregarded the basic rule of cross-examination - never to put a question whose answer you cannot forsee. The former Serb leader thus asked the witness to define the "cleansing operation", assuring him that such operations were organised against "terrorists and not against civilians". The answer was unexpected and obviously displeased him.

"The cleansing, Mr Milosevic, happens when the army starts killing civilians. It was something that went without saying over there. When the army moved in, the soldiers were not looking to see who is a terrorist and who is not but [cleansed] everybody in sight.

"I know, because I was there. You were not there. You should have come to see."

Milosevic was surprised again when he referred to the mid-1998 "cleansing" of a village near the Albanian border, from which he said civilians were evacuated from a combat zone, for their own safety.

However, the witness retorted that the village was emptied "for the safety of soldiers, not civilians", since the army would not tolerate the latter in the vicinity, as they were all seen as "potential terrorists".

Colonel Crossland, the second witness to heighten the defendant's blood pressure last week, observed the "cleansing operations" organised by the Yugoslav army and Serbian police in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 as British military attache in Belgrade.

He had several opportunities to observe these operations at close range and to judge the consequences. He was also in a position to visit evacuated and devastated Albanian villages, where he found looted and burned houses, dead cattle and scorched crops.

His main conclusion was that the Yugoslav security forces had deployed "absolutely wrong tactics" in their conflict with the KLA. He said they had used "disproportional and non-selective force", and that their "crude and ruthless destruction" only heightened the resistance of Kosovo Albanians, prompting many locals to opt for terrorism.

Moreover, Crossland cited several cases when the army and police "tolerated" KLA strongholds that they might otherwise have liquidated, attacking and destroying local villages instead and so "producing new terrorists".

But in Milosevic's cross-examination, arguments about "proportionality" and "selectivity" failed to reach the accused, just as they failed to do in 1998 and 1999 when, as a head of state, his western interlocutors warned him about the counterproductive tactics deployed by his forces in Kosovo.

For Milosevic, "proportionality" and "selectivity" were and still are "relative concepts" whose meaning is defined by the party deploying the force.

Judging from Crossland's testimony, Milosevic's associates held similar opinions, especially Generals Dragoljub Ojdanic and Nebojsa Pavkovic, whom he met in 1998 and 1999. He described how in Autumn 1998 he told the former that "heavy and massive devastation of villages by heavy artillery" made no military sense, which, however, the general

"could not understand".

The British colonel told the court that Ojadnic's predecessor as chief of staff, General Perisic, and the then head of military counter intelligence General Dimitrijevic did understand but were unable to do anything about it.

After he helped rescue some wounded Yugoslav soldiers in Kosovo in 1998, Crossland developed close ties to Generals Perisic and Dimitrijevic, who allegedly complained to him that a chain of command had been set up that circumvented them and led directly from Milosevic and Nikola Sainovic, his "man for Kosovo", to Pavkovic, commander of VJ forces in the country.

Crossland thus confirmed other testimonies, especially that of the much-disputed "insider" Ratomir Tanic, which described a "parallel" or "private chain of command" established by Milosevic in Kosovo.

The defendant did not miss the chance to make another blunder in the cross-examination, when he asked Crossland a question, or rather stated an opinion with no idea how the witness might reply. When Milosevic asserted that Pavkovic "did not operate outside the line of command and outside his authorisations", the answer again displeased him.

"In that case," Crossland concluded, "you [as chief commander] and

General Pavkovic [as direct subordinate] are responsible for what happened in Kosovo."

Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor at the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.

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