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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 20:05 GMT
Analysis: Milosevic's road to The Hague
Milazim Hetemi, a survivor of a massacre in the central Kosovo village of Izbica walks in the graveyard
Milosevic is the first former leader charged with genocide
By the BBC's Peter Biles in The Hague

On a balmy spring morning last April, the residents of Belgrade awoke to hear the dramatic news that Slobodan Milosevic had been taken from his Dedinje suburban villa by police in the hours before dawn and placed behind bars at the central prison.

After a tense standoff and a violent confrontation which had lasted more than 30 hours, the former Yugoslav president had finally been persuaded by the authorities to surrender peacefully.

Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague
Milosevic is challenging the court's legitimacy

At times however, the negotiations had been on a knife-edge. Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister, Zarko Korac, described Mr Milosevic as having been in "a bad mental state" - at one stage, Mr Milosevic had threatened to kill family members who had been with him in the house.

Hours later, the Serbian Justice Minister, Vladan Batic, told the press in Belgrade that Mr Milosevic's arrest had nothing to do with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Handover wrangles

The former president was being questioned about abuse of power and financial embezzlement.

The Yugoslav authorities seemed determined to put Mr Milosevic on trial at home. That day in Belgrade, one of Mr Milosevic's lawyers, Toma Fila, told me adamantly that there was no question of his client being handed over to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Chief prosecutor Carla de Ponte
Carla de Ponte pressed for Milosevic to be handed over

The international community however, saw it differently. As Mr Milosevic spent his first night in a Belgrade prison cell, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, was already predicting that Serbia's fallen strongman would be brought to The Hague before the end of the year.

Despite strong opposition from the Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, the Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, was pushing for co-operation with the tribunal in order to bring Serbia closer to the West.

In June 2001, Mr Milosevic was handed over to The Hague.

Groundbreaking trial

Mr Milosevic's entry into the trial chamber on Tuesday heralds the start of the most important war crimes trial since Nazi leaders appeared at Nuremberg after World War II.

He is the first former head of state to be charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Former US President Bill Clinton
The likes of Bill Clinton could be called to testify

As has become abundantly clear during the preliminary hearings, Mr Milosevic refuses to accept the legitimacy of the court because it was approved by the United Nations Security Council, rather than by all UN member states.

In the view of Human Rights Watch (HRW), the tribunal is not perfect, but the group says the ICTY functions "according to the highest standards of international justice".

"This means that Milosevic will receive all the guarantees necessary for a fair trial", says HRW.

During his earlier court appearances, Mr Milosevic has displayed disdain, and reinforced his impatience by occasionally pulling back his sleeve to glance at his watch.

He has refused to appoint a defence counsel and no-one can be certain what strategy he will adopt as the trial begins, beyond challenging the tribunal's validity.

Will he, for example, try to demand that Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and the former Nato Secretary General, Javier Solana, are subpoenaed to give evidence?

Woman kissing poster of Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic once enjoyed great support

Mr Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, has been visiting him in the nearby detention unit at Scheveningen, but it is not clear whether she will attend the beginning of the trial.

The Milosevic case has demonstrated the extent to which international justice is mixed up with politics. In December 1995, Milosevic rubbed shoulders with President Bill Clinton and President Jacques Chirac as he signed the Dayton peace accord that ended the war in Bosnia.

Accusations of bias

Only when the Yugoslav President was ousted by a wave of popular protest at home five years later, in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, did the pressure begin to build for his eventual extradition to The Hague.

Mr Milosevic will argue the tribunal is "a biased victors' court".

"The trial is a great step forward for justice", argues Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Programme.

But equally notable, he adds, are those indicted war criminals missing from the dock.

"The blame lies with Balkan governments that have failed to co-operate with the tribunal, and with Nato, which has for six years operated in Bosnia without rounding up Milosevic's co-conspirators," he said.

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