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Milosevic dismisses tribunal with disdain

©Los Angeles Times

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 4, 2001

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Radiating contempt for the outside world, which has called him to account for a decade of bloody mayhem, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic defied a war crimes tribunal Tuesday by refusing to retain defense counsel or enter a plea.

"I consider this tribunal false tribunal and indictments false indictments," Milosevic told the court in imperfect English at his initial appearance on four counts of war crimes, for which he would spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted. "It is illegal, being not appointed by U.N. General Assembly, so I have no need to appoint counsel to illegal organ."

The man held responsible by many of his countrymen and much of the international community for four wars that left more than 225,000 people dead and millions homeless staged a classic performance for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. His head held high, jaw thrust forward and his six brief comments dripping with disdain, Milosevic struck an arrogant and combative pose at this early opportunity in what promises to be a long confrontation.

Presiding Judge Richard May offered Milosevic the chance to have the full 54-page indictment read to him, to which the defendant responded: "That's your problem."

May said the court would treat that reply as a waiver of Milosevic's right to hear the charges, then asked if he was prepared to enter a plea or preferred to think it over for as many as 30 days.

Switching to his native Serbo-Croatian language, Milosevic launched into a diatribe against NATO, which bombed Yugoslavia in 1999 to halt ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a province of the country's dominant republic, Serbia.

"This trial's aim is to produce false justification for the war crimes of NATO committed in Yugoslavia," Milosevic said when asked if he was ready to plea.

"Mr. Milosevic, I asked you a question: Do you want to enter your plea today, or are you asking for adjournment to consider the matter further?" May pressed.

"I have given you my answer," Milosevic snapped, launching into another excoriation of "this so-called tribunal" before May cut him off with the warning that "this is not the time to make speeches."

The presiding judge said the court was interpreting the response from Milosevic, who pointedly declined translation headphones, as "failure to enter a plea," and entered not guilty on all four counts on the defendant's behalf.

Twelve minutes after opening the most watched proceeding in the tribunal's eight-year history, May declared the proceedings adjourned until Aug. 27.

Dressed in a slate-blue suit with pale blue shirt and a striped tie in the red, white and blue of the Yugoslav flag, Milosevic was escorted into Courtroom No. 1 of the tribunal five minutes ahead of the three-judge panel conducting his arraignment.

Milosevic appeared bemused by the packed public gallery on the other side of a bulletproof glass partition, where 80 journalists watched. He glared scornfully at reporters he recognized from his days in the limelight in Belgrade.

Glancing at his watch as he was escorted out of the courtroom, Milosevic commented dryly to a guard: "Ten minutes."

The brevity of his first contact with the court, though, is unlikely to herald short or expeditious proceedings ahead.

Even if Milosevic continues to refuse defense counsel, the prosecution is obliged to disclose its evidence and witnesses in order to give him an opportunity to prepare a rebuttal, said Jim Landale, chief spokesman for the tribunal.

Tribunal authorities will continue to urge Milosevic to hire an attorney, said Landale. If Milosevic persists in refusing, a judge could assign a lawyer to avoid later claims that the court abridged the accused's right to mount a defense.

Milosevic, a law school graduate, has the right to defend himself if he chooses, court officials confirmed. But May warned Milosevic that such a course might not be in the former leader's best interests, noting the proceedings will be long and complex.

Milosevic and four top lieutenants were indicted in May 1999 on charges that include forced deportation of ethnic Albanians, murder and persecution on ethnic or religious grounds. Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte expanded the charges last week to include more cases of killing, torture, looting and expulsion in Kosovo. Further charges alleging war crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia are expected.

- Information from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.

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