Milosevic knew details of Kosovo massacre, trial told

Stephen Castle
Thursday 13 June 2002 00:00 BST

The trial of Slobodan Milosevic reached a crucial juncture yesterday when the United Nations war crimes tribunal was told the former Yugoslav president had personal knowledge of a Serbian massacre.

In a development that focused attention on Serb war crimes in Kosovo, William Walker, the US diplomat who led an international observer mission in Kosovo, said he believed Mr Milosevic had known of Serbian atrocities against ethnic Albanians in the province in 1999.

Mr Walker, who met Mr Milosevic in the 1990s, said that the Yugoslav president's "knowledge was in many respects quite detailed. I never wavered in my opinion that I was dealing with the person who was in the maximum control of events in Kosovo."

The accused sat back and smiled as Mr Walker told the court: "The meetings were dominated by him [Milosevic] all four of them."

Mr Walker's evidence is central to the prosecution, which must prove that Mr Milosevic had personal responsibility for Serbian atrocities in Kosovo.

Yesterday's evidence came amid reports of a setback for the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte. Ms Del Ponte's office refused to comment on claims that she may not call Richard Holbrooke because the American State Department is insisting he testifies in secret, something that could foster the impression of a show trial.

However, if Ms Del Ponte does not call Mr Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton accords for Bosnia, Mr Milosevic might try to summon him as a defence witness in an attempt to embarrass the trial chamber and America.

In court yesterday, Mr Milosevic gave another pugnacious performance in cross- examination, attempting to destroy Mr Walker's credibility by arguing that he was cap in hand with the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Earlier Mr Walker had strongly rejected Mr Milosevic's claim that ethnic Albanian civilians found dead in that village of Racak in 1999 were casualties of clashes between Serb forces and local rebels or that the scene of their discovery was rigged.

He argued : "The first bodies I saw appeared to be elderly men with grey, white hair. All were in civilian clothes. There was no evidence of a battle having occurred there." In one sharp exchange Mr Milosevic said to Mr Walker: "You are talking about pools of blood and on the soil there is no blood at all. Do you see blood on this picture?" The former US ambassador replied: "No, not on this picture. I saw blood on the ground. I saw blood on the wounds. These were horrific sights and there was a lot of blood."

When Mr Milosevic argued that the scene had been "staged or rigged", Mr Walker answered: "My firm layman conclusion from what I saw on the ground, the position of the bodies, bullet-holes, blood on the ground, is that I consider the interpretation that these bodies were redressed during the night to be ludicrous."

The former Yugoslav president, who faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, also referred to the past to attack the witness.

Mr Walker dealt with Central American issues at the State Department from 1985 until 1988 and later served as ambassador to El Salvador from 1988 until 1992, when the United States became embroiled in financing anti- communist Contra fighters with proceeds from secret arms sales to Iran.

"In Kosovo, you supported a different kind of Contras," Mr Milosevic said. "The Contra Kosovo Liberation Army."

Meanwhile, in a separate trial, UN judges reaffirmed that rape is a war crime under international law by upholding the sentences of three Bosnian Serbs for the gang rapes and torture of Muslim women in the Bosnian war.

The panel rejected all grounds of appeal, recognising women's vulnerability during war and the need for legal sanctions to protect them.

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