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Last Updated: Monday, 10 July 2006, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
Serbs on trial in Milosevic's shadow
By Paulin Kola
BBC News

Milan Milutinovic at the war crimes tribunal in January 2003
Milan Milutinovic argues he had little power
Six former high-level political and military leaders of Serbia and Yugoslavia have gone on trial in The Hague charged with alleged crimes committed in Kosovo in 1999.

The "mega trial", as some are referring to it, began four months after their boss, Slobodan Milosevic, died in his cell as his trial on similar charges was nearing its end.

One of the accused, Milan Milutinovic, was Serbia's president during the conflict and thus nominally the second most important person after Milosevic.

As such he is the next best hope the prosecution have of obtaining the conviction of a head of a state over the alleged war crimes.

Milan Milutinovic, however, was not a proper head of state. Serbia was one of the entities of the truncated Yugoslav Federation, which is now defunct. But Serbia was not a recognised country in its own right.

Milan Milutinovic, ex-Serbian President
Nikola Sainovic, ex-Deputy PM of Yugoslavia
Dragoljub Ojdanic, ex-army chief of staff
Nebojsa Pavkovic, ex-Kosovo army commander
Vladimir Lazarevic, ex-commander, Pristina Corps
Sreten Lukic, ex-Kosovo police chief

More significantly, Mr Milutinovic never was the heavyweight of Serbian politics, having built his career in the shadow of Slobodan Milosevic.

So it will be something of an anti-climax to see the soft-spoken, greying man in the same dock that was occupied by Milosevic just a few months ago.

There will certainly be less of a frisson in the public gallery, less of a scramble among journalists and television crews to carry the proceedings live - and certainly less excitement in the bench after the frequent clashes with Milosevic which it often relished.

The victims of the war will still want to see the accused put away - possibly for life. After all, they felt cheated that Slobodan Milosevic died before judgment was rendered.

Shadow of Milosevic

Chief war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte may also have felt cheated by Mr Milosevic's untimely death, but she has not been less diligent in the new case.

Murder of Kosovo Albanian civilians taking no part in hostilities
Deportation of about 800,000 Kosovo Albanians
Forcible transfer, including the internal displacement of many others
Persecution on political, racial or religious grounds

The indictment of the six men may look a bit thinner than Mr Milosevic's - but it is certainly not patchy.

The prosecution should have had all the benefit of the evidence accumulated since February 2002, when Milosevic's case began.

And the crimes are similar - save genocide, which Milosevic had been charged with over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. It is not on the charge sheet now.

The indictment alleges that the accused participated in a joint criminal enterprise that aimed, among other things, to change the ethnic balance in Kosovo to ensure continued Serb control over the province.

It alleges that the accused, and their associates, "used the powers available to them as political and military leaders to achieve this".

Legal complexities

The prosecution in the case of Milosevic appeared to face difficulty trying to directly link the ex-leader to the alleged crimes.

They will now have to try again, perhaps with the same witnesses - and may even have a better chance.

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic's death will overshadow the proceedings

None of the six appearing in court on Monday command the respect - or the votes - that Mr Milosevic did in certain Serbian circles.

And they may not get the same kind of sympathy or support from Belgrade.

However, the accused, for their part, may find it easier to blame the man who is now dead.

Mr Milutinovic, for instance, has often insisted he had no real power. So even if a link to the top leadership is established, the accused may seek to shift it onto Milosevic.

Any conviction can only come after proof beyond reasonable doubt - and the burden of proof is on the prosecution.

The accused do not have to prove they are innocent - they are presumed so, and they have said it for the court's benefit.

But it has taken a long time for the case to come to court - it often does and the UN tribunal is often criticised for its slow pace.

The first of the six officials made his initial appearance at The Hague on 26 April 2002 - the last on 28 April 2005.

In theory their cases should be treated separately - and some could have concluded, had they been treated so.

However, this would have resulted in an overwhelming duplication of evidence and effort, given the similarity of the alleged offences.

So the cases were merged only in July last year. And it normally takes that long for the prosecution to seek to corroborate their evidence through witnesses and documentary proof.

Perhaps in recognition of this delay, the accused were provisionally released last year, pending the trial.

There is a strong possibility, too, that the prosecution might have been awaiting a judgment in the Milosevic case that could have been applied to his aides.

The proceedings at The Hague will be lengthy - the prosecution says it needs at last a year to submit its evidence. After that comes the defence, which will take at least as long, as strict time-keeping is something the judges like to stress.

Whatever the length, or the outcome, this case is unlikely to have the colour and melodrama often generated by Milosevic.

Flashback to Kosovo's war
10 Jul 06 |  Europe
Profile: Kosovo trial accused
10 Jul 06 |  Europe

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