Serbian nationalist politician says the West deliberately sparked the Kosovo conflict despite Belgrade’s attempts to avert it.


Serbian nationalist politician says the West deliberately sparked the Kosovo conflict despite Belgrade’s attempts to avert it.

Judges trying former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic this week heard evidence from one of his more notorious fellow-residents in the Hague tribunal’s detention unit, ultra-nationalist Serb politician Vojislav Seselj.

Seselj is currently awaiting trial for a series of war crimes he is accused of committing in Bosnia and Croatia between 1991 and 1993.

He keeps himself occupied by filing endless eccentric complaints to court staff, objecting to everything from the light conditions in his cell to a court-issue laptop computer that he insists is rigged to give him electric shocks.

Earlier this year, he was temporarily barred from communicating with anyone but his legal counsel and diplomatic staff after he revealed the name of a protected witness over the telephone.

Milosevic – who is representing himself in court – called Seselj to the witness stand to speak about events in Kosovo in the run-up to the spring of 1999, when prosecutors say Serbian security forces embarked on a campaign of destruction and murder, and expelled hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes.

Seselj told the court that the whole affair was manipulated by Western powers as a pretext for establishing a foothold in the Balkans.

Also this week, Milosevic called two ethnic Albanian men who had remained sympathetic to his regime at the time, and who attested to the professionalism of security forces deployed in Kosovo.

Seselj, who held a senior post in the Serbian government during the period in question, told judges that Belgrade had made a concerted effort to resolve the crisis in Kosovo peacefully.

He said that local Albanians - far from being persecuted, driven from their jobs and subjected to police brutality as prosecutors claim – were in fact “privileged”. The government refrained from taking action against them when they boycotted payment of utilities bills, he said, and took no measures when they refused to do national service.

“The state was trying to mollify Albanians in order to try and avoid... the conflict that was already looming,” he explained.

In the event, Seselj went on, it was western governments that were determined to bring about a conflict, because they were keen to exploit Kosovo’s resources and establish a foothold in a region that had long been considered Russia’s backyard.

To that end, he claimed, they set about financing and arming the fledgling Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, so that it could act as “NATO’s infantry” when the time came for war with Belgrade.

Seselj claimed that an OSCE observer mission, led by United States diplomat William Walker, was instrumental in this plan.

As all this was going on, he said, Serbian security forces deployed in Kosovo conducted themselves with the utmost restraint.

“In each case that resulted in civilian casualties, the Albanian side was to blame because they were using them [civilians] as human shields,” he insisted. “Our authorities never put civilians in the line of fire.”

This theme was developed by Milosevic’s other witnesses this week, Kosovo Albanians Muharem Ibraj and Saban Fazliu. The two men both cooperated with government security forces during the build-up to the conflict, with Ibraj doing so formally as a commander in a Belgrade-sponsored security unit in the Djakovica area.

Ibraj – who on arriving in the courtroom, addressed Milosevic as “Mr President” – said he had no problems with the police and army during the period in question. Following one isolated incident when a woman in his village was raped by two soldiers, he said, the perpetrators were given prison terms within a matter of days.

“The army protected us,” agreed Fazliu. “They even handed out chocolate to the kids.... I don’t know of any harm, any trouble that was done to us by the army.”

Both men also denied that the mass exodus of Kosovo Albanian refugees to Macedonia and Albania in the spring of 1999 was the result of a terror campaign by Serb security forces.

In fact, they concurred, the KLA issued an order for people to leave their homes as part of a publicity stunt to make the local Albanian population appear persecuted. Another contributing factor, they said, was fear caused by the NATO airstrikes.

Ibraj testified that damage to a mosque and a bazaar complex in Djakovica –mentioned in the indictment against Milosevic and blamed on Belgrade forces – was in fact caused by NATO bombs.

He had little to say in response to a report by an expert witness, who said the buildings in question appeared burnt out and showed no sign of the blast damage usually associated with a strike by a munition.

Ibraj also made accusations against the OSCE’s Walker, claiming he had seen the diplomat travelling to attend nightly meetings with senior KLA commanders.

Having informed Walker of the allegations, prosecutors read out in court the diplomat’s response, in which he dismissed Ibraj’s testimony against him as “ludicrous in the extreme”.

In cross-examination, prosecution lawyers read out a series of statements by witnesses who have testified before the tribunal that Ibraj’s Mush Jakupi security unit was infamous for its brutality.

At least one of these witnesses reported having seen members of the unit torching homes in Djakovica in March 1999, an allegation Ibraj strenuously denied.

Another said Ibraj’s men were so notorious that if someone was badly beaten, it was common parlance to say, “it was as if they’d been beaten by the Mush Jakupi gang”.

Prosecutors also called into question an incident in which Ibraj said he had killed a KLA collaborator in self-defence and helped arrest a number of other members of the group.

The witness did Milosevic’s case no favours when he defended his own role by blurting out, “If it had up to the Serbian forces, everyone would have been killed, not just one person.”

Seselj will continue his testimony when the trial resumes on August 23.

Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in London.

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