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

Milosevic Back to Work

Trial resumes after extended break following deterioration in the accused’s health.
By Michael Farquhar
The trial of Slobodan Milosevic has recommenced for the New Year after the court’s usual winter recess was extended into a six-week break intended to allow the ailing ex-Yugoslav leader time to rest.

A number of court hearings had to be cancelled late last year after the accused, who suffers from health complaints including high blood pressure, said he felt too unwell to go on.

He is currently awaiting a decision on an application for temporary release from tribunal custody in order to receive treatment at a specialist clinic in Russia.

Launching back into his defence case this week, Milosevic called two new witnesses: a Yugoslav Army, VJ, officer who worked alongside international observers during the Kosovo conflict; and a former member of the Yugoslav presidency.

VJ colonel Milan Kotur spoke about his experiences as a liaison officer assigned to work alongside the OSCE’s Kosovo Verification Mission, KVM, during fighting in the province in 1998 and 1999.

In the prosecution stage of the trial, KVM member Colonel Richard Ciaglinski testified that during one particular meeting with Kotur in 1999, the latter had spread out a map on a table and had given him a detailed account of plans to destroy the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

“And when we have finished dealing with the KLA,” Kotur apparently added at the time, “we will remove all the Albanians from the territory of Kosovo forever.”

Prosecutors say that in the months that followed this alleged statement, Milosevic oversaw a campaign of persecution of Kosovo’s Albanian population which included the forced deportation of some 800,000 civilians.

Speaking in court this week, however, Kotur vehemently denied having known anything about, let alone having spoken about, a plan to drive Albanians from Kosovo.

Kotur also insisted that if he had told Ciaglinski any such thing at the time, it would be natural to assume that he in turn would have informed his superiors.

During his testimony in the trial in 2002, Ciaglinski reported that he had in fact told the deputy commander of the KVM, General Karol John Drewienkiewicz, about Kotur’s comments.

But when Drewienkiewicz gave evidence in the trial himself, earlier the same year, he testified that up until the KVM left Kosovo in March 1998, he had heard nothing from anyone about a plan to expel its Albanian population.

Kotur insisted that Ciaglinski’s account of the conversation in question was fabricated.

Next to take the witness stand was Montenegrin politician Branko Kostic, who was a member of the collective presidency of what was then the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, SFRY, for a short period in early 1991.

Kostic spoke at length about events in Croatia and Slovenia around that time, when both republics declared their independence from Yugoslavia. There followed a brief conflict in Slovenia and four years of war in Croatia.

Describing the “illegal” arming of “paramilitary formations” in both Croatia and Slovenia, the witness placed the blame for the bloodshed squarely on the shoulders of the separatist movements at work there.

Kostic also took issue with a claim in the Croatia indictment against Milosevic that the “conflict [in Croatia] intensified when Serb police forces attempted to consolidate power over areas with significant Serb populations”.

Particular examples of apparent Serb aggression cited in the indictment, in Pakrac and Plitvice, in fact stemmed from antagonistic steps taken by the Croatian authorities, he told the court.

Kostic said he regretted that tougher steps hadn’t been taken at the time, including declaring a state of emergency, to try to prevent the crisis getting out of hand.

In the event, the SFRY presidency came to a deadlock in March 1991 over the question of implementing such measures. Shortly afterwards, Milosevic cut Serbia’s ties with the body.

Kostic is expected to return to the witness stand when the trial resumes on February 1.

Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in London.

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