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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 16:17 GMT
Milosevic accused of 'medieval savagery'
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic was said to be optimistic as the trial began
The prosecution in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic has accused the former Yugoslav president of being "responsible for the worst crimes known to humankind".

Mr Milosevic is on trial for genocide and war crimes in the Balkans over a period of nearly 10 years.

Some of the incidents revealed an almost medieval savagery and a calculated cruelty that went far beyond the bounds of legitimate warfare

Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte
During the first day of the landmark trial, which is expected to last at least two years, Mr Milosevic sat impassively, glaring across the courtroom at chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and her leading prosecutor, Geoffrey Nice QC.

"From the first to the last, he wanted as much as he could get away with and as much as he could keep," Mr Nice said told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

The BBC's Barnaby Mason says the prosecution's task is to establish a link between Mr Milosevic and a series of atrocities committed on the ground.

An ethnic Albanian girl cries for her father who was killed in the Racak massacre
The Racak massacre in Kosovo led to Nato's intervention
For example, Mr Nice linked atrocities carried out in the Croatian town of Vukovar in 1991 and the late paramilitary leader Arkan, who the prosecution said was equipped and supported by the Serbian Ministry of the Interior, controlled by Mr Milosevic.

Proceedings from the trial were broadcast live across Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Croatia, leading to sometimes tearful scenes among victims of the Balkans violence.

Mr Nice and Ms Del Ponte portrayed Mr Milosevic as a powermonger who used nationalism for his own ends, the carving out of a central Serbian state from Bosnia and Croatia.

During the process, nearly a quarter of a million non-Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo lost their lives.

Ms Del Ponte said the events Mr Milosevic was accused of sanctioning "were notorious and a new term, 'ethnic cleansing', came into common use in our language".

Milosevic charges
  • Genocide
  • Crimes against humanity
  • Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions
  • Violations of the laws or customs of war

    Click here for a full list of charges

  • "Some of the incidents revealed an almost medieval savagery and a calculated cruelty that went far beyond the bounds of legitimate warfare," she added.

    Prosecutors have said they will call up to 30 political insiders to give evidence linking Mr Milosevic to the atrocities of the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

    Mr Milosevic's case, Ms Del Ponte said, would be a powerful demonstration that "no-one is above the law".

    She said Mr Milosevic "pursued his ambition at the price of unspeakable suffering to those who opposed him," accusing him of doing everything "in the service of his quest for power".

    At the same time, Ms Del Ponte insisted that no state was on trial - a reference to Serbia.

    Collective guilt of a people was no part of the prosecution's case and the prosecution would not be drawn into political exchanges with Mr Milosevic, she said.

    Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte
    Del Ponte: Today we see international justice in action
    Politics would, however, form a large part of the trial, she added.

    The ICTY proceedings are seen as the most important hearing since Nazi leaders went on trial at Nuremberg in the aftermath of World War II.

    Mr Milosevic is the first former head of state to be charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the bloody conflicts which followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1999.

    Mr Nice began the prosecution case by presenting the tribunal with evidence gathered over years, including recordings, videos, and personal testimonies.

    Mr Nice recalled the horrors of the Balkan wars by recounting individual cases of murder, persecution and sexual assault.

    "Did he know this was happening?" Mr Nice asked the court. "Of course he did."

    'Tribunal illegitimate'

    Mr Milosevic has said he does not recognise the legitimacy of the UN tribunal or the charges against him, and has refused to appoint lawyers to defend him.

    Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre praying in Sarajevo
    About 8,000 Muslim men were killed in Srebrenica in Bosnia
    However, one of his legal advisers said he expected Mr Milosevic to make a statement.

    "He is not recognising the court but... he is going to have his statement or preliminary words," said Belgrade lawyer Dragoslav Ognjanovic, who met the former president for three hours on Monday.

    The former president faces a total of 66 counts of crimes against humanity, violating the laws and regulations of war, and genocide.

    If found guilty, he could face life imprisonment.

    The BBC's Justin Webb
    "Milosevic did not look the slightest bit worried"
    Slobodan Milosevic's brother, Borislav
    "The court ordered the kidnapping of Mr Milosevic"
    Spokesman for the war tribunal, Jim Landale
    "This is a landmark in international justice"
    Milosevic's legal adviser, Dragoslav Ognjanovic
    "He is going to use the courtroom to tell the world the truth"
    See also:

    12 Feb 02 | Europe
    Serbs stop work to watch trial
    11 Feb 02 | Europe
    Milosevic allies still at large
    12 Feb 02 | Europe
    Profile: Carla Del Ponte
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