Milosevic ordered to have health checks but trial will resume

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The Independent Online

Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president, was ordered to undergo fresh health checks yesterday, as war crimes judges in The Hague said they may appoint a defence lawyer to stand in for him during any future bouts of illness.

Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president, was ordered to undergo fresh health checks yesterday, as war crimes judges in The Hague said they may appoint a defence lawyer to stand in for him during any future bouts of illness.

The order, designed to break the cycle of seemingly interminable delays to the trial that began in 2002, followed the failure of Mr Milosevic to open his defence on Monday due to ill health.

However the judges said there was no evidence at this stage to suggest that Mr Milosevic was too sick to stand trial, and rescheduled the start of his defence for next Wednesday.

Despite his high blood pressure, which has put the former Yugoslav president at risk of a heart attack, Mr Milosevic is conducting his own defence against a host of war crimes charges including genocide in Bosnia, and crimes against humanity in Kosovo and Croatia in the 1990s.

Any attempt to foist a defence counsel on him will be vehemently resisted by the defendant, who wants to summon the former US president Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the 150 working days he has been allotted to present his case.

Yesterday's decision by the trial judges means that a fresh medical opinion will be delivered to the judges as soon as possible. In the meantime they will consult on a possible defence counsel.

On Monday Steven Kay, one of the lawyers appointed as an amicus curiae or friend of the court, to help ensure a fair trial, said the tribunal should examine Mr Milosevic's fitness to stand trial, saying his health had deteriorated.

In yesterday's statement the judges noted that the defendant's ill health had caused the loss of 66 trial days but added: "There is no evidence that the accused is not fit to stand trial at all, but there is evidence that the health of the accused is such that he may not be fit to continue to represent himself."

One possibility is that the court will seek to line up one of the amicus curiae to defend Mr Milosevic if he is too ill to appear. This would avoid the need for the defence lawyer to research the case which began in February 2002.

While court officials know that such a move would be rejected by Mr Milosevic, the appointment of a stand-in is seen as one of the few ways in which the court can guarantee that the trial will not suffer permanent disruption.

Jim Landale, the UN tribunal's spokesman, argued that the judges would not rush to any decision: "What they have asked for is additional medical information to be absolutely certain of the medical fact and that the time is now right to impose a standby counsel."

Since the prosecution wrapped up its case in February, Mr Milosevic has been working on his defence from an office with a computer, fax, telephone and filing cabinets in the tribunal's detention centre. However he has complained that he lost some time needed to prepare his defence through illness since February.

Mr Milosevic, who has described himself as a peacemaker in the Balkans, declined to enter a plea to the charges levelled against him.

Pleas of not guilty were entered on his behalf by the trial's three judges.

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