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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 18:32 GMT
Milosevic asks court to release him
Slobodan Milosevic in court
Milosevic: "This is not a battle I will miss"
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has asked the United Nations war crimes court in The Hague to release him, promising to attend any hearings.

I would call this an evil and hostile attack aimed at justifying the crimes committed against my country

Slobodan Milosevic
"It would be logical and just to let me go, I will not flee," Mr Milosevic told an appeals chamber, adding: "I am fully prepared to come to any hearing because this is not a battle I will miss."

He was speaking at a hearing dealing with an appeal by prosecutors on whether the former Yugoslav president should face a single trial.

The prosecutors want his trial on charges relating to Kosovo to be joined to charges relating to the Croatian and Bosnian wars. They argue the three cases are part of the same scheme to create a purely Serb state.

Presiding Judge Claude Jorda asked Mr Milosevic whether he would prefer two trials or just one, however Mr Milosevic refused to answer the question.

"By adding up three lies you will not get to the truth, you will enlarge the lie," he said.

'One big lie'

Mr Milosevic also asked for his provisional release.

Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor
Tribunal prosecutors want single trial
It was the first time he was allowed to make a lengthy statement before the tribunal; previously judges had turned off his microphone rather than permitting him to speak, saying the courtroom was not the place for political speeches.

He did not answer the judges' question - instead, he gave a long speech, saying the charges against him were "abnormal and nonsensical".

Mr Milosevic, who has previously rejected the court's legitimacy, said the trial was "an attempt to turn the victim into the culprit."

He launched into a diatribe against the UN, saying it had been Nato who committed crimes against Yugoslavia.

"How many of your hostages did we save?" he asked.

"We saved your pilots, we saved your soldiers."

He also appeared dismissive of the court's procedures, saying he preferred only that "the truth" was revealed.

"As far as how you deal with procedures, that is up to you," he said.

"I will give you no suggestions."

Mystery witnesses

The five appeal judges are expected to decide whether to grant the prosecution's request for a single trial in the coming days.

If the chamber rules in their favour, it could mean a delay to the Kosovo case, which is scheduled to start on 12 February.

There have been media claims, strenuously denied, that the prosecution has not got enough witnesses to present its case.

Chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte said they would be ready to start in two weeks.

But, she argued, the prosecution intended to call several former insiders of the Milosevic regime, and feared they would not be able to return to The Hague to testify again if the trials were held separately.

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Belgrade says little has emerged in the Yugoslav capital as to who may testify against Mr Milosevic, but there are plenty of rumours - and much more interest in the identity of the mystery witnesses than in Mr Milosevic himself.

Military and civilian leaders in a position to know anything about the former president's decisions on Kosovo have paraded before the media, either to deny they are about to testify against their former boss or to say they will, if called on.

The BBC's David Chazan
"The prosecution wants a single trial for Milosevic"
Balkan specialist Tim Judah
"It's very unlikely that they're going to let their top man go now"
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