Milosevic begins his defence

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The Independent Online

Launching his defence against war crimes charges, Slobodan Milosevic justified his actions in the Balkans as a "struggle against terrorism," and said he was a victim of twisted facts and "terrible fabrication."

Milosevic, the first head of state called to justice before an international tribunal, began with a sharp attack against the NATO bombing of Kosovo, a relentless 78–day operation in 1999 that forced Yugoslav forces to abandon the drive against ethnic Albanians rebelling against his regime.

On the third day of his trial, the former Yugoslav leader finally had a chance to respond to an exhaustive two–day recital of horrors by the prosecution in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. He was accused of masterminding a ruthless campaign of murder and expulsion in the Balkans in his quest to create a "Greater Serbia."

Milosevic spoke with animation, pointing his finger and thumping his desk, in an address that appeared directed as much toward the television audience in Serbia as toward the three international judges trying him.

Milosevic went on the defensive against his accusers, whom he identified as the western countries which deliberately undermined the Yugoslav federation by encouraging Bosnia to secede in 1992.

"Your bosses broke up Yugoslavia," he said, mocking the court, which he dismisses as an instrument of his enemies. "They pushed Bosnia into a civil war. The Serbs did not start the war. It is nonsensical to accuse the wrong side," he said.

Despite the prosecution denials, he said the case was not against him alone but against the whole Serbian people. "Our citizens stand accused, citizens who lent their massive support to me," he said. "My conduct was an expression of the will of the people," he said.

Milosevic began with the war in Kosovo, the first of three indictments against him. He rejected as "a terrible fabrication" accusations that Serb military forces expelled hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians, and said they in fact fled from the Kosovo Liberation Army and the NATO bombing.

"When people were fleeing from these places of conflict, this is called deportation," he said. "They want to make me accountable for the crimes they perpetrated themselves," he said.

He said he had given strict orders that civilians should not be harmed, but indirectly admitted some individuals may have committed crimes.

"I'm not trying to say that some individuals did not do this, but the police and army defended the country courageously and honorably," he said.

"America crosses the globe to fight terrorism in Afghanistan, but to fight terrorism in the heart of your own country is considered to be a crime," he said. "Our defence was a heroic defence against the aggression of the NATO pact."

His presentation, expected to take at least a full day, opened with the screening of a video asserting that the western intervention was contrived and "concocted," and that there had been no human disaster in Kosovo, as claimed by the west, until the bombing began.

The video, a documentary prepared by the German ARD television was based on interviews with western officials who dissented from the policy toward Yugoslavia. It asserted that Serbs were massacred in Kosovo, and that the NATO campaign was "a violation of international law in which innocent civilians lost their lives."