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Last Updated: Monday, 10 July 2006, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Top Serbs tried for Kosovo crimes
Milan Milutinovic at the war crimes tribunal in January 2003
Ex-Serbian President Milan Milutinovic is one of those charged
The largest trial of senior Serbian officials has begun at The Hague's International War Crimes Tribunal.

Six men, including ex-President Milan Milutinovic, face war crimes charges over the actions of Serb troops during the conflict in Kosovo in 1999.

The six deny murdering, persecuting and deporting ethnic Albanians.

The case has taken on a new importance after the death of ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during a trial on similar charges.

Opening the proceedings, prosecutor Thomas Hannis reminded the court of the stark images that preceded Nato military action in 1999.

"In 1999, Kosovo was prominent in international headlines and video images of conflict and convoys of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees," he said.

These six accused were co-perpetrators with Slobodan Milosevic in a joint criminal enterprise
Prosecutor Thomas Hannis

"We are going to explain why."

Mr Milutinovic is in the dock alongside former Yugoslav deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, ex-army chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic and three former generals - Nebojsa Pavkovic, Vladimir Lazarevic and security chief, Sreten Lukic.

They are charged with involvement in the murder, sexual assault and forced deportation of Kosovo Albanian civilians, as well as the destruction of their religious sites.

'Systematic'

The trial aims to establish who was responsible for acting against Kosovo's Albanian community.

THE ACCUSED
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

The six are accused of the forced deportation of 800,000 ethnic Albanian civilians and the murder of thousands of others in a "joint criminal enterprise" with Mr Milosevic.

"The evidence will show that these six accused were co-perpetrators with Slobodan Milosevic in a joint criminal enterprise... the aim of which was to ensure continued Serbian control over the province," Mr Hannis said.

The defendants, all of whom were appointed by Mr Milosevic, wanted to alter the ethnic balance in Kosovo, which was largely populated by Kosovo-Albanians, to perpetuate Serb control, he said.

He spoke of "widespread and systematic" murder, bombing, robbery and rape by Serbian forces across the province.

Mr Milosevic, widely seen as the architect of the Serbian activities in Kosovo, died in his cell in March, four years into his trial at The Hague.

His death means the tribunal has yet to establish legally what happened in Kosovo in 1999.

The prosecution says it needs at last a year to submit its evidence against the six defendants, and the defence is likely to take at least as long.


BBC NEWS:VIDEO AND AUDIO
See inside the International War Crimes Tribunal



SEE ALSO
Flashback to Kosovo's war
10 Jul 06 |  Europe
Profile: Kosovo trial accused
10 Jul 06 |  Europe
Milosevic's legacy of discord
11 Mar 06 |  Europe

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