ANALYSIS: Milosevic Fights Cold War

Every time Slobodan Milosevic comes off worst in a courtroom confrontation he mysteriously falls ill

ANALYSIS: Milosevic Fights Cold War

Every time Slobodan Milosevic comes off worst in a courtroom confrontation he mysteriously falls ill

Slobodan Milosevic has fallen ill for the second time since his trial began on February 12, leading to speculation about the tight schedule imposed by the judges.

The former Serb president is suffering from a cold with a high temperature, leading his supporters to claim that the fast pace of the trial is designed to exhaust the accused, so that he will be unable to present an effective defence.

His wife Mira Markovic has spoken of "a desired result that was planned well ahead", which was intended to "sap his energy".

The pro-Milosevic lobby also objects to the practice of transporting him to and from the UN Detention Unit to the court building every day - a journey of up to three hours.

By chance or design, each of Milosevic's two illnesses has followed an unsuccessful confrontation with top western officials who have testified against him in court. The first, in mid-March, followed an unsuccessful duel with the current High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Paddy Ashdown. (See Tribunal Update No. 258) Milosevic took two weeks to get over the cold that followed his run-in with the British former Liberal Democrat leader.

His immune system failed again after long awaited and eagerly expected duels with Ambassador William Walker, former head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, KVM, and General Klaus Naumann, ex-chair of NATO's military committee. He lost these battles also. (See Tribunal Update No. 270).

The testimonies - especially that of Naumann - were far more devastating for Milosevic than Ashdown's had been, so it will be interesting to see how long he takes to recover this time.

It is not yet clear if the former president's health problems have been caused by the tempo of the trial, or if it will force the judges to change their "egg-timer" approach to the proceedings.

Over 14 weeks of presenting evidence - a total of 59 trial days - the prosecution has summoned up to 80 witnesses, which is a tribunal record. The latest list of witnesses, finalised before Milosevic's illness, includes another 68.

However, the judges imposed a deadline for the presentation of evidence, and this runs out on July 26. That is five working weeks away, including three days set aside for the judges' plenary session.

Ironically, both Milosevic and "the other side", as he scornfully calls the prosecution, are united against the judges' obsession with deadlines.

Milosevic objects because the pace is exhausting him, and the prosecution does so because they feel such deadlines have "emasculated" their case and prevented them from presenting all evidence.

But a working tactical alliance between the two sides remains out of question, because it suits Milosevic to leave his opponents as little time as possible to present evidence. This is why the accused seems determined to waste as much of the prosecution's time as possible.

As soon as Milosevic returns to court, the prosecution will undoubtedly request additional time because of his illness. If the judges fail to compensate for the loss, the accused might get the message that he can "fall ill" as often as possible, and thus obstruct the prosecution's presentation of evidence.

Milosevic and his opponents are not the only ones distressed by the time pressure. The survivors of alleged mass killings at Racak, Izbica, Suva Reka and other locations are also suffering.

Instead of five planned witnesses for each of the 14 locations described in the indictment, the prosecution will have only one or two witnesses per site in most cases.

Their written statements will be included in the evidence, but they will only speak during cross-examination by the defendant. And, as many of these alleged victims have discovered, Milosevic is not interested in their sufferings but in the crimes of "Kosovo Liberation Army terrorists" and "NATO aggressors". Their stories will thus remain untold, which is highly frustrating for them and the public.

Over the next two weeks, the prosecution will exhaust its list of witnesses whose testimonies aim to prove that the crimes described in the indictment - such as deportations, killings, rapes and destruction of property - really occurred.

Then follow the "linkage witnesses", whose accounts are supposed to link the defendant, directly or indirectly, to these alleged crimes by proving he controlled the forces responsible and knew what was happening in Kosovo.

These testimonies should include the "insiders" who were once close to Milosevic himself, so this last presentation of evidence for the Kosovo indictment should be an exciting event.

The one thing that could affect the prosecution's busy schedule before July 26, or any new date set by the trial chamber, would be the unexpected arrival of those US officials described in Tribunal Update No. 269 as "missing witnesses". Their testimony may take at least two weeks - almost half the time left to the prosecution.

Washington has confirmed that the former American ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, is among them but has insisted he testify in closed session. The Hague prosecution refused the request. As a result, Holbrooke and other witnesses have dropped from the picture.

Because of the time constraints, the prosecution is in no hurry to get hold of these witnesses. This is not only to avoid making Milosevic ill again, for reasons mentioned earlier, but because such testimonies would cover a broader period than the one mentioned in the Kosovo indictment.

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

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