The Times; July 3, 2001

Milosevic's drive into legal history


A MOMENTOUS precedent will be established this morning when Slobodan Milosevic becomes the first former head of state to appear before an international court on charges of crimes against humanity.

Just before 10am an armoured vehicle will take him from Scheveningen penitentiary into a sealed underground car park at the International War Crimes Tribunal building in The Hague. The former President of Yugoslavia will hear Richard May, a British judge, read the charges and will be invited to enter a plea. He is expected either to plead not guilty or to refuse to recognise the authority of a tribunal he has previously dismissed as "a political circus set up to destroy the Serb nation".

The preliminary hearing will be brief but, as Jim Landale, the tribunal's spokesman put it, will be a "huge moment. The message is very clear: that no individual is above the law no matter what position they might have held."

Croatia is now preparing for the political drama surrounding the extradition of indicted war criminals. According to a diplomatic source at the World Economic Forum's European conference, two sealed indictments of senior figures in the Croatian military have arrived in Zagreb.

Although some Bosnian Croats have been sentenced for war crimes this is the first time that citizens from Croatia proper have been indicted. President Mesic, who is in Salzburg for the conference, said he knew that the prosecution team in The Hague "is working on sealed indictments. Whether they are already in Zagreb or still in The Hague, I don't know. Or at least, I haven't seen them." If the tribunal has sent the indictments it would be to the Prime Minister and Justice Minister who would not strictly be obliged to tell the President.

Croatia's reformist Government is thought to be nervous about the popular reaction to any attempt to extradite Croat generals to The Hague.

Mr Milosevic last night received his first visitor - his lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic - since he was spirited from a Belgrade cell last Thursday. The tribunal has reportedly asked the Dutch authorities to grant Mr Milosevic's wife, Mira, a visa so she can visit him over the coming months. Members of his family are currently barred from entering European Union countries, but legal experts in Brussels were examining whether an exemption could be granted.

The tribunal building was ringed by police, steel barriers and the television trucks that will broadcast live one of the most sensational court appearances of modern times. Hundreds of journalists applied to cover the hearing, but only 75 will be admitted to the public gallery while the rest must watch in a conference centre.

Mr Milosevic will be escorted into the first floor, semi-circular courtroom by United Nations guards. The guards are not armed lest the defendant tries to seize a gun. The defendant is protected by a thick wall of bullet-proof glass.

Judge May, 62, is a plain-speaking Midlander who joined the tribunal in 1997. Mr Milosevic is supposed to stand when he and the two other judges - one Jamaican, one Moroccan - enter. It remains to be seen whether he will.

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