Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

COURTSIDE: Milutinovic Case

By Mirko Klarin in The Hague (TU 297, 20-24 January 2003)

Together with Slobodan Milosevic, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic and Vlajko Stojiljkovic, Milutinovic was indicted for participation in an alleged joint criminal enterprise in the first half of 1999.

The indictment alleges that this was intended to expel a large portion of the Albanian population from Kosovo through a campaign of terror, forced transfers, killings and destruction.

At that time, as president of Serbia, Milutinovic had de jure control over the interior ministry forces. Together with then-president Milosevic, his Montenegrin counterpart Momir Bulatovic, and chief of staff Ojdanic, he was a member of the Supreme Defence Council, which had command over the Yugoslav armed forces.

However, Milutinovic does not believe that this makes him responsible for the crimes which the indictment alleges were committed by the forces under his de jure or de facto control.

Yet, this need not be his last word on responsibility for crimes in Kosovo. Soon after coming to The Hague, Milutinovic met chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte in the presence of his defence attorneys, and agreed to be interviewed by tribunal investigators.

During these talks, it is possible that Milutinovic will develop a different view of events for which he is indicted - and maybe change his opinion about his own role.

This has already been the case with seven of the accused so far. The most recent example was that of ex-Republika Srpska president Biljana Plavsic, who is on provisional release while awaiting sentencing for crimes against humanity to which she confessed. Whether others will follow her example will depend on the length of sentence she receives, among other things.

Milutinovic's defence team has already submitted a request for his provisional release until the beginning of trial.

Although the prosecution successfully opposed the release of co-accused Sainovic and Ojdanic last year, it is possible that it will not block this request.

While the prosecution disputed the voluntary nature of the surrender of Sainovic and Ojdanic - stating that they turned themselves in only to avoid the "embarrassment of arrest and enforced transfer" - it is regarding Milutinovic's act as "voluntary surrender" in which the authorities in Belgrade played only a "logistical role" (providing a government airplane to transfer the former president to The Hague).

And while they insisted last year that Sainovic and Ojdanic came to The Hague "three years too late", the prosecution now pays no attention to the fact that Milutinovic turned himself in as many as 44 months after the Kosovo indictment was issued in May 1999.

The prosecutors have stated that they had believed Milutinovic when he pledged to surrender as soon as his term of office expired. This probably means that, if he is given provisional release, they will trust his word that he will return to The Hague for his trial.

Proceedings could get underway very soon, as the former president's defence counsel has hinted that they will not file preliminary objections to the jurisdiction of the tribunal and form of the indictment.

Although it concerns the same facts and crimes, this trial will not be just a rerun of the Kosovo phase of the proceedings against Milosevic, for at least two reasons.

First, it can be expected that the prosecution will have more time to present its case than it had during the Milosevic trial.

The second and more important difference is that Milutinovic, Sainovic and Ojdanic will be represented by professional attorneys, unlike Milosevic. This will open space for a normal court procedure in which the parties will exchange legal instead of political arguments.

Mirko Klarin is a senior IWPR editor in The Hague and the editor in chief of SENSE news agency.

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