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ANALYSIS: Milosevic Indictments Joined

Milosevic "helps" prosecution persuade appeals judges that the indictments against him must be heard jointly.
By Mirko Klarin

Slobodan Milosevic is to face three indictments in a single trial beginning next Tuesday, after the appeals chamber ordered that the Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia cases be joined.


Appeal judges overruled an earlier trial chamber decision to have two separate court cases.


Inevitably, those who earlier predicted the "imminent collapse" of a single trial on the Kosovo indictment (see Tribunal Update No. 251), interpreted the decision as a move to avert just such an outcome.


According to that interpretation, the appeals chamber acted to save the prosecutor's case against Milosevic, as it faced collapse owing to the alleged refusal of "insiders" to testify against the accused.


In reality, the prosecution's biggest ally in the fight to overrule the trial chamber decision on two trials were not the judges but the accused.


Everything Milosevic uttered last Wednesday in a half-hour tirade before the appeals chamber largely confirmed the prosecution's argument that the defendant's responsibility for crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, can and must be heard jointly.


Both Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and the accused persuaded the judges that the events described in the three indictments were closely connected, formed part of a "common scheme, strategy and plan" and were connected by a "thin red thread".


Their only difference concerned who was behind the "common scheme, strategy and plan".


According to the prosecutor, it was Milosevic. It was his "scheme, strategy and plan" to establish or maintain Serb control over parts of the territories of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.


The "thin red thread" linking the events in the three indictments, Del Ponte said, was the "forcible and violent expulsion of the majority of the non-Serb population from those territories."


Milosevic, on the other hand, said the "common scheme, strategy and plan" was that of foreign powers. They wanted to "destabilise the Balkans and place its territory under [their] control, so that they might establish their control elsewhere from that strategic position".


These unidentified powers backed "separatists in Croatia and Bosnia" against Serbia, which according to Milosevic fought "only for Yugoslavia's preservation".


Later in Kosovo, those same powers entered a "joint criminal enterprise" with the Albanian terrorists and the narco-mafia "for the purpose of crimes not only against Serbs but all other non-Albanians, even Catholic Albanians".


The "thin red line" linking all these things, Milosevic said, was "ongoing crimes against Yugoslavia and against my people".


However, there is a third "thin red line" linking all Milosevic's previous appearances before the tribunal. This is his effort to share responsibility for the crimes of which he is accused with Serbia and the Serbian people.


It was particularly pronounced on this occasion, as the presiding judge in the appeals chamber, Claude Jorda, let Milosevic speak without interruption for half an hour, the time both sides were allocated to present their views for or against the joining of the three indictments against the former Yugoslav president.


As before, Milosevic spoke in the plural, as if the state and the entire people were accused, and not he personally.


There were numerous examples of this. "The entire policy of Serbs, Serbia and me personally... was focussed on peace, not war," he said.


Then again, "How can Serbia be accused of anything in Bosnia, when it is well known that... we not only backed all the peace proposals, but also tried to help implement them."


And, "You can not, in any way, link Serbia or the Serbian policy with any kind of crimes...I think that such a criminal approach... both in regard to my country, my people and myself, has not yet been recorded in history."


And finally, "I will use every opportunity to address the public...


in order to answer the attack against my country and my people."


Thus, while the tribunal attempts to separate individual from national responsibility and dispel the notion of collective guilt, Milosevic persistently tries to share responsibility with "his country" and "his people".


Although he refused to directly declare whether he was for one or two trials, as he was "not interested in the procedure", his version of events before and during the war largely backed the prosecution's argument about a single "transaction".


At the same time, Milosevic indicated the basic line of his defence in the joint trial. It is clear that his intention is not to defend himself, but to accuse the unidentified powers, which - in a "joint criminal enterprise" with Croatian and Bosnian separatists, Albanian terrorists and the narco-mafia - committed crimes against "his country" and "his people".


Last week, the prosecution team followed Milosevic's "geopolitical expose" with interest and were visibly pleased that the judge allowed the accused to speak freely.


The team coordinator, Geoffrey Nice, reacted only to one of Milosevic's claims, namely that "Albanian terrorists" in 1998 had killed "two-and-a-half times more Albanians than Serbs".


Nice said the prosecution would present precise data on the hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians who were expelled and the large number who were killed.


Milosevic will clearly use the trial to outline his version of Balkan history. The tribunal's mission is not to provide a rival narrative, but the facts established in the trial and the evidence presented will inevitably assist the process of uncovering the truth of what happened over the last decade of bloody conflict. Denial, or revision of history will then be more difficult.


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