Judge Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor of the International Tribunal for War Crimes in former Yugoslavia, read out the historic document in The Hague. In an echo of the Nuremberg trials at the end of the Second World War, it charged the entire upper echelon of the Yugoslav government - three of Mr Milosevic's ministers and his army chief - with committing "crimes against humanity".
The closely argued 9,000-word document accused them of planning, organising and carrying out the mass deportation of Kosovo Albanians and the killings of hundreds of defenceless civilians since January.
"There is a credible basis to believe that these accused are criminally responsible for the deportation of 740,000 Kosovo Albanians and for the murder of 340 Kosovo Albanians," Ms Arbour said.
But the indictment drew only muted cheers from Britain and the United States, a cool response from Germany and fury from Serbia and its Russian and Greek allies.
The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, cautiously said that while Nato was determined Mr Milosevic would be brought to justice, lines of communication had to be kept open while he was in power.
No one outside Serbia doubted Judge Arbour's indictment was inevitable, but some Nato doves complained that it was "politically inconvenient", driving Mr Milosevic into a corner and hindering the chances of a negotiated end to the war. The Yugoslav President has always insisted that any peace deal for Kosovo must include immunity from prosecution for himself and his family.
Belgrade was predictably furious and scornful. "This is another attempt to throw dust into the eyes of the world public, aimed at concealing the responsibilities for the crime of genocide against the Yugoslav people," it said. "Louise Arbour is only a puppet in the hands of the warlords."
Russia attacked the indictment as "politically motivated" and in a signed article in The Washington Post, Moscow's Balkan envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, threatened to withdraw entirely from the peace negotiations.
However, the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, backed the judge's right to act independently. "The prosecutor must go where the evidence leads her," he said. "Justice must be allowed to take its course."
President Bill Clinton said: "It will reassure the victims of Belgrade's atrocities in Kosovo and it will deter future war crimes by establishing that those who give the orders will be held accountable."
One person who will not be swayed in the slightest by the row is Judge Arbour. The tough French Canadian is highly regarded and has campaigned aggressively to raise the profile and morale of the tribunal since she took the post in 1996, three years after it was set up.
The indictment contains a meticulously researched account of the rise to power of Mr Milosevic and his lieutenants and the war they initiated in Kosovo. It includes detailed reports of mass deportations and massacres, with the names of known victims attached. The information was gathered from refugees now in Albania and Macedonia.
The four others charged with crimes against humanity are the Serbian President, Milan Milutinovic, the federal Deputy Interior Minister, Nikola Sainovic, the Yugoslav army chief, Dragoljub Odjanic, and the Serbian Interior Minister, Vlajko Stojiljkovic.
"They planned instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted a campaign of terror and violence" the indictment said, "with the objective of removing a substantial portion of the Kosovo Albanian population from Kosovo. Forces acting under the direction of Slobodan Milosevic [and the other four] have murdered hundreds of Kosovo civilians. These killings have occurred in a widespread or systematic manner." The indictment came as Nato stepped up its air war against Serb forces in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. On Wednesday night the alliance launched a record number of attacks on Yugoslavia, with 740 strikes. Last night strikes cut electricity to Belgrade.
Crimes against humanity,
page 16; Further reports,
pages 15, 17
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