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Milosevic's Bosnia and Croatia Defence Takes Shape

Trial sees rare shift in focus of evidence away from Kosovo conflict towards the wars of the early Nineties.
By Michael Farquhar
The trial of Slobodan Milosevic continued to hear evidence this week on the Balkans crisis in the early Nineties which saw the collapse of the old Yugoslav order and a series of vicious wars across the region.

The former Yugoslav president is accused of responsibility for crimes including genocide during fighting in Croatia and Bosnia at the time.

But he has largely neglected these charges to date, having spent the vast majority of the hours allotted to his defence addressing separate allegations to do with his conduct during the Kosovo conflict many years later.

The recent shift in focus came with the arrival in The Hague of Branko Kostic, who was a member of the collective presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, SFRY, in the period leading up to its collapse.

Kostic - who is mentioned in the indictment against Milosevic as one of his alleged partners in crime - has spoken about the mounting crisis, which saw moves by Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia to split from the federation in favour of independence.

He has argued that Milosevic acted throughout as a peacemaker, whose real hope was to hold on to the old Yugoslav state.

As president of the republic of Serbia - a member of the SFRY - in the early Nineties, Milosevic had relatively limited formal powers. But prosecutors say he actually wielded enormous control over events in the Balkans via his influence over bodies such as the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, Serb paramilitary groups and the SFRY presidency.

During his time in the witness stand, Kostic has sought to challenge such claims.

He told judges this week that the only paramilitary units formed in Serbia at the time were loyal to opponents of the president, like Vuk Draskovic and his Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO.

He also insisted that it was the SFRY presidency, not Milosevic, that was responsible for the JNA. And while he acknowledged that Milosevic had great political standing at the time, he denied that he controlled the SFRY presidency. Kostic - who represented Montenegro on the presidency - said he personally disagreed with the Serbian representative, Borisav Jovic, on many issues.

Kostic also spoke about a number of peace initiatives which he said had Milosevic’s active support, including the Vance Plan which saw United Nations peacekeepers deployed in Croatia.

The witness recalled that Milosevic had backed the so-called Belgrade Initiative, which he said could have resulted in Bosnia remaining part of Yugoslavia, with president Alija Izetbegovic as the first head of state. Kostic added that Izetbegovic initially accepted this proposal, but changed his mind shortly afterwards.

The witness said Izetbegovic was also responsible for reneging on the Cutileiro Plan, an effort backed by the European Community to avoid war in Bosnia.

Kostic also insisted that far from being international conflicts, as prosecutors claim, the outbreaks of fighting in both Croatia and Bosnia constituted a clear example of “typical, textbook civil war”.

Cross-examination of Kostic fell to Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff, who played a large part in presenting the prosecution’s case against Milosevic with regard to the Croatia indictment.

Uertz-Retzlaff presented the witness with a series of extracts from his own writings and from books by other individuals named in Milosevic’s indictment, including Jovic and the Montenegrin president Momir Bulatovic. Quoting from these texts, she sought to show that Milosevic met constantly behind the scenes with senior political figures in an effort to control events.

At one point, she quoted Jovic as saying that Kostic was “extremely cooperative and loyal” to Milosevic at the time, and often gave more weight to the interests of Serbia than to those of Montenegro.

The cross-examination of Kostic will continue when the trial resumes on February 13.

Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in London.

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