Evidence linking the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, to Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War emerged yesterday from the war crimes testimony of the former Nato commander, Wesley Clark.
General Clark told the UN court in the Hague, that his conversations with him indicated Mr Milosevic had advance notice of a massacre at Srebrenica. Seven thousand Muslim men and boys were murdered in the UN safe enclave in 1995, an act of ethnic cleansing that was a symbol of the brutality of a conflict that tore apart the former Yugoslavia.
General Clark, who is now a US presidential candidate, gave evidence to the court in secret this week. Part of his testimony was released yesterday, revealing how he discussed the massacre with Mr Milosevic during talks on a Bosnian peace plan in August, 1995.
The general said that one conversation had touched on the central issue of whether Mr Milosevic had control over the forces commanded by the Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic which committed the atrocity. General Clark told the tribunal: "I approached President Milosevic as he was standing there in a casual setting outside the formal meeting, and I was still wrestling with the idea as to how it is that Milosevic could maintain that he had the authority and the power to deliver the Serb compliance with the agreement.
"And so I simply asked him. I said, 'Mr President, you say you have so much influence over the Bosnian Serbs, but how is it then, if you have such influence, that you allowed General Mladic to kill all those people in Srebrenica?"
He continued: "And Milosevic looked at me and paused for a moment. He then said, 'Well, General Clark', he said, 'I warned Mladic not to do this, but he didn't listen to me'."
Prosecutors, who are trying to convict Mr Milosevic on a host of charges including crimes against humanity and genocide, seized on the remarks as central to their case. Florence Hartmann, spokes-woman for the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said: "It's extremely important for us because it gave us direct evidence that Milosevic had advanced knowledge of the mass killings at Srebrenica."
But that interpretation is open to dispute, and judges may conclude that it indicates only that the former Serb president did all he could to avert the murderous attack but could not control the Bosnian Serb forces. Mr Milosevic himself denounced the comments as a "blatant lie".
General Clark was Nato's supreme allied commander in Europe during the 78-day bombing campaign to drive Serbian forces from Kosovo in 1999. But he also played a quasi-diplomatic role and met with Milosevic for more than 100 hours before and during the Balkan wars.
General Clark said: "It was very clear what I was asking was about the massacre at Srebrenica. When I said 'kill all these people', it wasn't a military operation, it was a massacre. It was also, to me, very clear what Milosevic was answering. He was answering that he did know this in advance, and he was walking the fine line between saying he was powerful enough, influential enough to have known it but trying to excuse himself the responsibility of having done it."
But the general's testimony was disputed by Mr Milosevic who denied he had spoken to General Clark about the massacre. Mr Milosevic, who is conducting his own defence, said during the cross-examination: "General Clark, this is a blatant lie.
"First and foremost, because we did not talk about Srebrenica at all, and second, because I, throughout the time, through all of those years, I never issued a single order to General Mladic nor was I in the position to issue him orders."
The 62-year-old former Serb strongman dismissed the general's testimony and claimed he had been a peace-maker in the Balkans.Reuse content