Milosevic must not be given the chance to cry foul

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The Independent Online

The much-interrupted trial of Slobodan Milosevic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague is in danger of moving from justice to farce, which is exactly what the former Yugoslav president, who started his defence yesterday, wants. A lawyer and populist politician, he has used every trick in the book to embarrass his prosecutors and put himself in the position of innocent and ailing victim.

For a man accused of numerous atrocities and crimes against humanity in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mr Milosevic's taste for play acting and procrastination is particularly shameless and aggravating, but it is important that the court does not allow itself to be pricked into an ill-considered response. Mr Milosevic has a right to conduct his own defence, and he has a right to take time to make out his case in his own way. The court has already put a limit on the length of time the defence can take to put its side of the argument (150 days). Within that, it should allow the defendant as much latitude as possible.

The trial, which started in February 2002, has already been going on for two and a half years; far too long, in other words, to present the picture of speedy and effective justice that the victims and the international community at large would have wanted. But the worst thing to happen now would be to give room for Mr Milosevic to cry foul. What matters in the end is that the world sees that even the highest politician can be brought to trial for crimes against humanity and judged with the full force, and fairness, of the law.

If the Europeans really want to drive that message home, then they should redouble their efforts to capture the Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. The case against this pair is both more direct and more urgent. Both are known to be alive and are almost certainly in Serbia, quite possibly in the capital. It is a continuing indictment of the Serbs that they have been so loath to co-operate in the search for them. Their seizure and trial would send out as clear a message as Mr Milosevic's appearance in The Hague that those guilty of atrocities will, sooner or later, be brought to justice.