Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic angrily refused to work with two court-appointed lawyers Tuesday as they called the first witness in his war crimes defense case — an elderly Serbian nationalist who taught him law and advised the Yugoslav government as it headed into civil war.
Smilja Avramov, a former professor at Belgrade University born in 1919, was questioned for several hours by Steven Kay, one of two British lawyers assigned last week against Milosevic's will to contest the 66 war crimes counts in his indictment.
Avramov, like Milosevic a vocal opponent of the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, praised Bosnian Serb hard-liners Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, both indicted on genocide charges for the 1995 massacre of 7,500 Muslims near Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia.
Milosevic, who insists on representing himself in court, has rejected any form of cooperation with Kay or his deputy, Gillian Higgins.
"These defense lawyers are not my lawyers, they are your lawyers," he told Presiding Judge Patrick Robinson. "I ask you to return my right of self-defense to me."
Milosevic was told he could question Avramov, but Milosevic said he would not accept "crumbs" from the court. "I have no intention of exercising any rights as Mr. Kay's assistant. I'm not going to accept that," the former Serbian leader said.
Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader during the 1992-1995 war, and Mladic, his top military commander, have eluded capture for eight years and remain at large.
Avramov said she stood by comments she made in 1996, just a year after the Srebrenica killings, that the men were "the two greatest figures of recent Serbian history.
"As for Gen. Mladic, a man I met several times, I have a very high regard of him as a soldier. I know some heroic feats of his in which he saved civilians, both Muslim and Serbian civilians," she said.
She praised Karadzic as an "intellectual with high moral integrity" and credited his continued popularity among followers to "the fact that he took the side of his people in the most difficult time."
Prosecutors allege that Milosevic designed and carried out a complex plan to create an ethnically pure Serb nation by expelling or murdering non-Serbs in the former Yugoslav republics to carve out a "Greater Serbia." Karadzic and Mladic were instrumental in implementing the plan, U.N. prosecutors allege.
But the witness denied knowing of such a plan and said Milosevic had always sought a peaceful solution to the Balkan problem. "It is ridiculous, to put it mildly," Avramov countered.
"Was there any policy that supported the use of force to take control of territory in Bosnia or Croatia?" prosecutor Geoffrey Nice asked.
"No, I state categorically, no," she responded.
"Was there any question of the expulsion of people, that you know of, within his policy?" Nice said.
"Never, gentlemen," she told the panel of three U.N. judges.
Avramov said she broke from Milosevic in the early 1990s because he was too accommodating to negotiators from the West trying to broker peace among Serbs, Muslims and Croats.
Before the witness was called, Kay told the court that Milosevic had refused to see him and his associate Monday evening and Tuesday morning. His only contact, he said, was "indirect, through the registrar" of the court.
Judges appointed the defense lawyers against Milosevic's will last Thursday, citing potential further delays in proceedings due to the former president's heart trouble. Milosevic rejects the tribunal's jurisdiction and has said he will appeal the decision.
The private Beta news agency in Belgrade reported Tuesday that Serbian police have filed criminal charges against a former aide of Milosevic for allegedly secretly removing or destroying over 1,400 pages of official documents on activities of Serb troops in Kosovo in 1998. Such documents could be crucial for the case against Milosevic.
The report could not be immediately confirmed.
Avramov, a retired Serbian international law professor, wrote in the mid-1990s that the U.N. Security Council had no legal authority to try Milosevic.
The trial, which began in February 2002, has been set back by at least six months because of Milosevic's high blood pressure. He has nonetheless insisted on preparing his own defense and spent months researching and interviewing witnesses from his U.N. detention cell.
Judges had been wary of appearing to infringe on Milosevic's right to defend himself, for fear of giving ammunition to opponents of the tribunal who call the proceedings a show trial.
The judges finally were swayed by reports from two cardiologists warning that the defendant's life would be at risk if he continued representing himself in court. His legal aides insist he is fit enough to do the job.
Milosevic is charged with crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, and violations of the laws or customs of war on three separate indictments, pertaining to the conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.
In Bosnia, he is charged with overseeing "the widespread killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims." He is accused of, "the extermination or murder of hundreds of Croat and other non-Serb civilians, including women and elderly persons" in Croatia.
In Kosovo, prosecutors allege that Milosevic "planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in a deliberate and widespread or systematic campaign of terror and violence."
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