Ashdown tells court of Milosevic war crimes in Kosovo

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The Independent Online

Lord Ashdown became the first western politician to testify against the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic yesterday at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

The former Liberal Democrat leader – and former envoy to the Balkans – produced a map that had been hastily drawn for him on a dinner menu by the late Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, during a 1995 function at London's Guildhall.

Lord Ashdown produced it as evidence of a plan to create a Yugoslav state free of Muslims. He said: "I had asked President Tudjman if he would draw what he believed to be the future state of Yugoslavia."

Lord Ashdown described Tudjman drawing an S-shaped line dividing Bosnia. The western part would join Croatia and the eastern half was allotted to Serbia.

Lord Ashdown said: "I asked what, if anything, was allowed for Muslim areas. Tudjman said the Muslim areas had been incorporated in Greater Croatia and Greater Serbia – Bosnia no longer existed."

Lord Ashdown argues the drawing proved how Mr Tudjman and Mr Milosevic together planned to carve up Bosnia, provoking years of bloodshed and ethnic cleansing.

Lord Ashdown's appearance was a reminder of the host of contacts between Mr Milosevic and western politicians during his years in power.

After arriving in court, Lord Ashdown nodded at Mr Milosevic in the dock, as he took the witness stand. The two smiled at each other in recognition of their past meetings.

There was little further generosity as Lord Ashdown gave evidence, however. Mr Milosevic faces 66 war crimes charges, including one of genocide in Bosnia and could spend life in prison if convicted.

Although the trial is focusing on events in Kosovo, Lord Ashdown was asked to give a brief account of his discussions with Mr Tudjman at the dinner in London. It is relevant to charges against Mr Milosevic relating to Bosnia. Lord Ashdown then moved on to talk about how he witnessed the destruction of Kosovo Albanian villages in 1998.

In particular, he focused on the plight of those who suffered as a consequence of the ethnic cleansing inflicted by Serb forces. He said that Kosovo Albanian refugees driven from their homes by Serb forces in 1998 faced harrowing conditions as they sought safety in Albania.

Lord Ashdown said: "All their stories were consistent. The final descent into Albania was extremely precipitous. They had some very harrowing stories to tell." He added he had spoken to wounded Kosovo Albanian refugees in June 1998, after they fled a Serb crackdown in the disputed province.

"They all had the same or similar stories to tell: they were ordered out of their villages by army, police.If they stayed they were subjected to small arms fire. If they (still) did not leave they were subjected to tank fire, artillery fire or mortar fire," he added. At the time, Lord Ashdown described the situation as "a humanitarian catastrophe of terrible proportions". He also travelled to Belgrade to meet the man he is testifying against.

Today, the hearing is likely to be highly charged as Mr Milosevic has the right to cross examine witnesses.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Milosevic scoffed at a suggestion that Serb atrocities provoked a mass exodus of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo in 1999, dismissing it as "fabrication".

He also questioned the authenticity of documents found at an Albanian border post recording the flow of refugees that were used in the report, suggesting they were planted as part of an Albanian propaganda campaign.

"I think you have been deceived," Mr Milosevic told Patrick Ball, an American academic called to give evidence.

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