Milosevic begins war crimes defence

He said accusation that he masterminded the 1990s wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo are lies, as he began outlining his defence case at 9.00am (local time) in the International War Crimes Tribunal.

“In the international public for a long time an untruthful and distorted picture was created about what happened in Yugoslavia… The accusations against me are unscrupulous lies,” he said in his opening statement.

“The international community acted … as the main force for the destruction of Yugoslavia.”

He opened his war crimes trial defence on Tuesday against charges of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, after a lengthy delay due to his ill health.

The former leader has been charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and his trial is considered Europe’s most significant war crimes trial for more than half a century.

The trial opened at the UN tribunal in February 2002, and the start of his defence has been delayed for months due to his health problems, including high blood pressure, flu and bouts of exhaustion.

Looking relaxed and sitting cross-legged, Milosevic started his opening statement with a chronological account of what he called “the violent destruction” of Yugoslavia.

“A multi-ethnic, multi-confessional state was destroyed … this constitutes the gravest international crime,” he said.

“Hundreds of thousands of people were wounded and maimed. Thousands of people fled their homes, mostly Serbs.”

Milosevic blamed the west for fuelling separatist tendencies and the creation of paramilitary units by demanding in June 1991 that the Yugoslav army stay in its barracks, citing the example of an attack in Slovenia on border guards.

“This is a classical example of an armed rebellion against a state. The state is duty bound to take all necessary measures to restore law and order,” he said.

Milosevic, whose performance in court has featured finger-jabbing confrontations with judges and prosecutors, wants to call more than 1,000 witnesses, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President Bill Clinton.

The former president is acting as his own lawyer, and was given four hours to present the outlines of his defence case. The judges will subsequently hold a procedural hearing to discuss his health and the possibility of forcing Milosevic to hire a lawyer.

The former Yugoslav president is charged with over 60 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged key role in the 1991-95 war in Croatia, the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and the Kosovo conflict in 1998 and 1999.

For the war in Bosnia that left 200,000 people dead, he has been charged with genocide and complicity in genocide. If convicted he faces a life sentence

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