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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 17:30 GMT
First witness confronts Milosevic
Mahmut Bakalli shakes hands with Slobodan Milosevic when they met in 1998
Mahmut Bakalli (left) suffered "banishment"
The first witness at the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has said Albanians were persecuted under a system of "apartheid".

Mahmut Bakalli, former Communist leader of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, was the first to take the stand in the courtroom in The Hague after Mr Milosevic concluded his three-day opening address on Monday.

Kosovo Albanian politician Mahmut Bakalli
Mahmut Bakalli is a member of the new Kosovo parliament

Mr Bakalli, who said he had met Mr Milosevic while trying to calm tension after clashes between Serb security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas, testified he had suffered simply by being an Albanian.

He is one of up to 350 witnesses UN prosecutors are calling in order to present the full case against Mr Milosevic.

He was the top Communist party official in Kosovo from 1970 until 1981, when he resigned in sympathy with ethnic Albanian civil rights protesters who clashed with police.

Mr Bakalli said he then spent years outside the power structure, including two years under house arrest, before being allowed to work in a research institution.

It appeared to be an imposed apartheid which is a crime against humanity

Prosecution witness Mahmut Bakalli

But that ended when "Milosevic and his policies began" and Albanians were subjected to a crackdown, he told the court.

"People were thrown out of their jobs, they were thrown out of government offices, out of cultural affairs, out of education - in general out of social life," he said.

"It appeared to be an imposed apartheid which is a crime against humanity, it would seem to me."

Mr Bakalli, now a member of the new Kosovo parliament, said a Serbian security officer told him in 1997 that Mr Milosevic already had a "scorched earth" plan for Kosovo, which allegedly included the levelling of 700 ethnic Albanian settlements.

Mr Milosevic watched calmly as Mr Bakalli, whom he met twice in spring 1998, testified. He will be able to cross-examine him on Tuesday.

'Inflamed tensions'

Earlier, wrapping up his opening statement which was spread over three days, Mr Milosevic accused Western powers of "destroying" the former Yugoslavia and declared he would be the "moral victor".

former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic
Milosevic denies helping Karadzic drive out Muslims and Croats from Bosnia

The former Yugoslav leader said the West had inflamed ethnic tensions in Croatia and Bosnia in a bid to achieve its ultimate aim - the destruction of multi-ethnic Communist countries, such as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

This was to allow them to wield economic, political, social and cultural power over Yugoslavia, he said.

"They opted for the method of national conflict," Mr Milosevic told the court.

"Nationalism was incited, along with national hatred and national conflicts, flames were fanned to turn it into a full-fledged war."

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

  • Mr Milosevic, on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, is accused of providing political, financial, and logistical support to the Bosnian Serbs and of commanding Yugoslav troops.

    "This is nonsensical," he said. "As for carrying out my own alleged orders to Republika Srpska, only somebody who knew nothing about the degree of vanity of Yugoslav politicians, especially the Serb politicians, and their intolerance towards any kind of interference by anyone else, can come with this kind of construction.

    "Either de jure, or de facto, I had no control over the Yugoslav people's army. This invention of command responsibility is a major lie."

    Click here for extracts from Milosevic's defence

    Mr Milosevic rejected accusations that he had helped former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic drive Muslims and Croats out of Bosnia during the 1992-95 war.

    Former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic will not be giving evidence against the former Yugoslav president, her lawyer said.

    Legality rejected

    The first months of the case will focus on Kosovo; then it will move on to the wars in Bosnia and Croatia.

    The entire proceedings could last two years.

    Mr Milosevic rejects the legality of the court and has refused to appoint lawyers to defend him in what is being described as the most important war crimes trial since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

    He is the first former head of state to be indicted before an international tribunal.

    Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch
    "He was very important as a foundation-laying witness"
    The BBC's Angus Roxburgh
    "He portrayed himself as a man of peace"

    At The Hague

    Still wanted



    See also:

    19 Feb 02 | Europe
    18 Feb 02 | Europe
    15 Feb 02 | Europe
    14 Feb 02 | Europe
    11 Feb 02 | Europe
    14 Feb 02 | Europe
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