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COURTSIDE: Kosovo Case

Ojdanic may echo Milosevic claim that he was defending Yugoslavia from terrorists.

General Dragoljub Ojdanic, the first person on the Kosovo indictment to voluntarily surrender to the tribunal, is planning a defence that will borrow some of Slobodan Milosevic's key arguments.

The former commander of the Yugoslav Army was accused along with Milosevic and three of the latter's top aides of the mass deportations and killings of Kosovo Albanians in 1999.

Under US pressure, the Serbian authorities handed over the former Yugoslav president to the tribunal last year. When pressure was stepped up this year, the federal parliament finally passed legislation on cooperation with the tribunal, prompting several indictees in Serbia to apparently agree to surrender to The Hague.

Ojdanic is the first. He pleaded not guilty to all five counts against him: deportations, forcible transfers, killings, inhumane treatment and persecutions. The general said he had understood the indictment and there was no need for it all to be read out at his first appearance.

"Ojdanic's arrival is an important first step," said deputy prosecutor Graham Blewitt, adding that he expected others - namely Milan Milutinovic, President of Serbia and Nikola Sainovic, former deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia - to follow in the next few weeks. Their rapid transfer was vital, he continued, if the tribunal was not to waste time and money on separate trials.

On the day of Ojdanic's appearance, the Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said her office would begin disclosing supporting material for the case on May 6.

The general's Serbian-American defence team will file no motions or requests on his indictment or status before then. One of his lawyers hinted that the defence strategy would borrow elements from Milosevic's arguments on Kosovo, in which he has claimed he was "defending Yugoslavia from Albanian terrorists" in the province.

Ojdanic's American lawyer, Peter Robinson, said his client's voluntary surrender marked "the first step in his journey for justice, in which he will defend himself form the charges arising from his country's fight with terrorists".

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.

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