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Milosevic Trial on Hold

Lawyers secure adjournment to prepare key witness.
By Michael Farquhar
The trial of Slobodan Milosevic was adjourned for nearly two weeks after a witness hailed as central to the defence case failed to arrive at The Hague.

Momir Bulatovic, president of Montenegro in the early Nineties and the next scheduled witness, was apparently delayed by personal problems.

Prosecutors say Bulatovic took part with Milosevic in an effort to rid roughly a third of Croatia of its non-Serb population in 1991 and 1992. In 1999, when the crisis in Kosovo came to a head, he was prime minister of Yugoslavia.

Prior to the announcement of the adjournment this week, Milosevic called two witnesses whose testimony spanned both of those conflicts.

First to appear was Slobodan Jarcevic, who was foreign minister of the self-declared Republika Srpska Krajina, RSK, in modern-day Croatia, from October 1992, until becoming foreign policy advisor to the RSK president Milan Martic in April 1994.

Jarcevic described an alleged plan to force non-Serbs from around a third of the territory of Croatia between August 1991 and June 1992 as an “illusion”. In fact, he said, Croats were evacuated from Serb-dominated territories in an organised manner.

He testified that, on the contrary, it was the Croatian president Franjo Tudjman who oversaw a campaign of persecution so terrifying that it “froze the marrow in the Serb bones”. He spoke of the burning of Serb homes and businesses and forced conversions of Orthodox Christian Serbs to Catholicism.

During this period, Jarcevic said, weapons for Croatian fighters were imported from countries including Germany, Austria and Hungary.

The witness also denied prosecution allegations that Milosevic’s regime in Belgrade held a great deal of influence over the RSK authorities. Presented with claims by Milan Babic, the former Bosnian Serb president turned prosecution insider witness, that Milosevic had manipulated events in Croatia through “parallel structures”, Jarcevic described them as “sheer nonsense”.

Jarcevic said the relationship between the RSK and Belgrade “had all the characteristics of relations between any two states”.

Immediately upon beginning her cross-examination, prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff established that in the two years leading up to his appointment as foreign minister of the RSK, Jarcevic had never actually spent any time in the region. His only trip to Croatia during that period was to play in a chess competition in Pula, in the north-west of the country, in March 1991.

Even once he became foreign minister, Jarcevic acknowledged that the ministry offices where he was predominantly based were in fact in Belgrade.

Uertz-Retzlaff also presented the witness with various pieces of evidence of links between Milosevic’s government and the RSK, including a letter from Martic, addressed to the Yugoslav president in April 1993, in which he requested help funding the local authorities. Jarcevic said Belgrade owed the RSK government money at the time and suggested that this might have been part of a repayment scheme.

The prosecution also played recordings of intercepted wartime telephone conversations in which Milosevic is apparently heard blaming Martic for incidents which triggered the Croatian offensive on the Western Slavonia region, known as Operation Flash, in May 1995.

The witness said that “even small children” in Yugoslavia knew that this particular situation had in fact arisen because of Croatian provocations.

Following Jarcevic, Milosevic called Alice Mahon, who was a member of the British parliament throughout the Nineties and also sat on the NATO parliamentary committee from 1992 onwards.

Mahon told the court that she considered the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 to have been illegal and “purely political”. She suggested that the bombing was the main reason that hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians fled their homes in 1999, rather than persecution by the state security services. She also said that Albanians that she spoke with afterwards informed her that they had been told to leave by the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

Mahon even went so far as to say that she believed the air strikes had deliberately been aimed at civilian targets. “I feel passionately that NATO should be in the dock in this place as well,” she told the court.

The witness also called into question the prosecution’s account of an attack by government forces on the village of Racak in January 1999, said to have left some 45 Albanians dead.

She said that her experience of William Walker, the head of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission who was amongst the first to travel to Racak and speak out about the alleged massacre, was “appalling”. Mahon said that Walker had been involved with the Contra paramilitaries in Nicaragua in the Eighties and recalled that conversations with soldiers, charity workers and Kosovo residents had led her to believe that the OSCE was under the influence of the American CIA.

“I certainly don’t think we should have destroyed a country based on what Mr William Walker said,” she told the court, adding, “I think there was something highly suspicious about what happened at Racak.”

In cross-examination, Mahon admitted that the sources of her evidence about the CIA’s influence over the OSCE were general, pointing out that she had only sought to speak about that relationship in general terms.

When it came to her suspicions about the forensic evidence of murders in Racak, Mahon cited talks given by various individuals to an organisation that she had helped to set up, the Committee for Peace in the Balkans.

The trial is due to resume on March 14 with testimony from Bulatovic.

Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in London.

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