COURTSIDE: Milosevic Trial

Former Yugoslav president has a bad week in court

COURTSIDE: Milosevic Trial

Former Yugoslav president has a bad week in court

The seventh week of the trial of Slobodan Milosevic began unfavourably for the accused and finished even worse.

It started with the continuing cross-examination of retired British general Karol Drewienkiewicz, who testified on events that took place before NATO air strikes (See Tribunal Update No. 261).

From October 1998 until March 1999, General Drewienkiewicz was operational head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, KVM, an OSCE body set up to monitor Belgrade's adherence to the October 1998 treaty, under which it pledged to reduce troop numbers and armaments.

In his cross-examination, Milosevic suggested the OSCE acted as "NATO spies" and "KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] allies", with the task of "preparing the terrain for NATO aggression against Serbia".

The British general denied the allegation. Explaining the mission in terms of "preventing the further deterioration of a bad situation", he insisted that they "tried everything to prevent the war", and failed in their task primarily because of the Milosevic regime's obstruction.

Milosevic used much of his cross-examination time to deny the general's statements about events in Racak on January 15, 1999 and the following day, when the general visited the scene with the head of the verification mission, William Walker.

Milosevic claimed the 45 bodies of ethnic Albanians found in a ditch near the village were all those of "terrorists" and "KLA members" who had been killed in combat in the hills and brought to one place to give the impression of a massacre. It was all a "TV massacre".

Drewienkiewicz maintained his description of events and insisted the victims were killed where the bodies were found. There was no "evidence of combat" and they were undoubtedly "executed in cold blood", he said. He regretted the Serb side refused to investigate the incident together with the KVM and described the procedure of the Serbian investigators, which he witnessed, as "highly superficial" and a violation of the normal procedure for the collection of evidence.

The second witness heard last week was British colonel Richard Ciaglinski, KVM liaison officer with the Serbs. His testimony on events in Kosovo in late 1998 and early 1999 matched Drewienkiewicz's statements and introduced an interesting new detail. He claimed that in mid-March 1999, after one of the last meetings with the Serb representatives, he found himself alone with a high ranking Yugoslav Army, VJ, officer who showed him on a military map how the operation for the "total and permanent elimination of the KLA" would proceed once the KVM pulled out.

The officer allegedly said that the army, once they "finish with the KLA, will exile all Albanians from Kosovo". Ciaglinski said this proceeded exactly as the officer described, indicating it was planned, coordinated and prepared.

In cross-examination, Milosevic first tried to present the officer as a "traitor" who had revealed military plans to "an officer of enemy army", and who had "endangered tens of thousands of his colleagues".

Ciaglinski denied that the KVM was Serbia's "enemy" and stressed he had not informed the KLA of the planned operation. Milosevic then suggested the plan was only a "private opinion" of one particular officer. The British colonel doubted this, as events proceeded exactly as the VJ officer described.

Milosevic then suggested the officer "could not have known" of any military plans. Again, Ciaglinski disagreed, saying he was informed and experienced. Finally, a distressed Milosevic requested to have the officer brought before the court to "clear the name" of the VJ, warning that his name would "not remain a secret forever" and added without elaboration that he might have "children and grandchildren". The judges disregarded this request. The prosecution also did not disclose whether the officer's name was on the list of protected witnesses.

The greatest temptation for the defendant last week was appearance of the Kosovo journalist and publisher, Veton Surroi, whose testimony was supposed to show that Milosevic "knew everything and made decisions on everything".

Surroi said Milosevic clearly knew what was going on in Kosovo when they first met in mid-May 1998 in Belgrade. As a member of a Kosovo Albanian delegation that Milosevic invited to Belgrade to negotiate a political solution, Surroi had addressed the violations of human rights and the violence. He especially mentioned the case of Adem Jashari, killed with 60 family members, including women and children, by Serbian police in March that year.

Surroi said Milosevic described Jashari as "a criminal who killed his family himself". When the prosecutor asked if the witness gained an impression that Milosevic was informed of the fate of the Jashari family, Surroi said yes, adding that the accused "explained all the details of the operation" and "seemed to believe in what he was saying".

Surroi recalled his conclusion that Milosevic was making all decisions at the negotiations in Rambouillet in February 1999, which he joined as an independent member of the Kosovo Albanian team. "Except for three or four delegates who belonged to the inner circle of the accused" the Serbian delegation "had no idea of what was going on there", Surroi said. It soon turned out that even those in the inner circle "did not come to negotiate, but to obstruct the negotiations".

Surroi said that at one point the international mediators allowed Nikola Sainovic, head of the Serbian delegation, to go to Belgrade and consult Milosevic "because he was the one who made all decisions". And at the end of the conference, he said, the president of Serbia, Milan Milutinovic, refused to sign the agreement, telling the mediators that "he could not make any decisions" and that "his boss in Belgrade" would make them.

Milosevic attacked Surroi's description of the Serbian delegation's conduct at Rambouillet, saying he had "made them look like idiots". When Milosevic stressed that the delegation included all Kosovo's nationalities, including Serbs, Albanians, Turks, Roma and even "Egyptians", Surroi replied that it was "multi-national, but from one party", composed exclusively of Milosevic party members who "regarded political identity as more important than national identity".

When Milosevic accused him of mocking a "policy of national equality", Surroi responded even more forcefully. The Milosevic regime, he said, pursued a policy of "Orwellian equality, in which everybody is equal but some are more equal than others...That was the ideology of your state".

When Surroi finished, Milosevic vented his frustration on another prosecution witness, Reshit Salihi, a farmer from the Kosovo village of Celine, drawing a fierce reaction from both the prosecutor Geoffrey Nice and Judge Patrick Robinson.

Salihi provided a statement recalling the events of March 24, 1999 when the army encircled and shelled his village and then moved in, burning houses, killing residents and forcing the rest into trucks, where they were taken to the Albanian border. His statement is expected to confirm that of Agim Zeqiri, from the same village, who testified on these events at the start of the trial.

Milosevic, making much of the witness's illiteracy, claimed it was not his statement at all but one of "the prosecution officers who wrote it down". Nice vehemently rejected the accusation, saying it was his "privilege to work here with an international group of investigators whose integrity could be tested by the evidence". Judge Robinson then reprimanded Milosevic for his "entirely improper" questioning. "Do not cast aspersions on the character or integrity of the prosecution unless you have any evidence to support it. This is a very, very serious matter," he said.

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

Serbia, Kosovo
Support our journalists