Published on Monday, September 18, 2000 by the Associated Press
Serbia Accuses NATO of War Crimes
by Aleksandar Vasovic
 
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia –– A Belgrade court accused President Clinton and other leaders of NATO nations of war crimes Monday in a trial intended to resurrect memories of the alliance's bombing campaign ahead of elections in Yugoslavia.

Judge Veroljub Raketic faced a row of 14 empty chairs with plates bearing the names of the accused in a courtroom packed with 300 reporters and spectators. Diplomats from African countries, North Korea and Iran also attended.

War Crimes Trial
Spectators sit behind empty chairs reserved for President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Monday September 18 2000 at the start of the trial in Belgrade. A Belgrade district court put Clinton, Albright and other leaders of key NATO states on trial in absentia for war crimes in connection with the alliance's bombing campaign last year. A row of 14 empty chairs with signs bearing names of the accused faced presiding judge Veroljub Raketic in a packed courtroom. Besides Clinton and Albright, those indicted include Defense Secretary William Cohen, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, as well as NATO's former Secretary General Javier Solana and retired commander Gen.Wesley Clark. (AP Photo / Srdjan Ilic)
But it was a trial without defendants – and without witnesses.

Belgrade district attorney Andrija Milutinovic opened the session by reading the names of 240 Yugoslav army soldiers, 147 Serbian policemen and 503 civilians killed in NATO airstrikes.

"We have more than enough evidence for the case," he said.

Yugoslavia suffered heavily in the bombing, launched last year to halt President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The trial should serve to fan such feelings ahead of Yugoslavia's elections Sunday – a move that Milosevic supporters apparently hope will translate into votes for the incumbent president.

"There is no expiration time for these crimes" Milutinovic said, meaning that if the court ordered prison terms against the accused, they could be apprehended if they come to Yugoslavia.

It is unlikely, however, the trial could have any real impact on the leaders involved. No monetary damages are being sought.

A group of 15 court-appointed attorneys represented the defense.

Besides Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, those indicted include U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, as well as NATO's former Secretary-General Javier Solana and retired commander Gen. Wesley Clark.

Last month, Milutinovic accused senior NATO officials and Western leaders of "inciting an aggressive war and committing war crimes against a civilian population." The 120-page indictment included charges of use of illegal means of warfare, attempted murder and "violation of the territorial integrity" of Yugoslavia.

"The judge panel has decided to hold the trial in absentia," Raketic said in court Monday.

Raketic said no witnesses would be called to testify since the list of plaintiffs included "all citizens of Yugoslavia and no courtroom was big enough to hold all witnesses."

Yugoslav officials allege that NATO leaders violated international law when ordering the bombing of civilians – an act that resulted in numerous deaths, grievous bodily harm and destruction of homes and property.

But discord appeared among defense attorneys Monday.

"I shall demand the indictments be altered so as to separate each case – not all were equally guilty," said Miljko Zivojinovic, who is representing Solana. "Solana was only part of NATO's command chain."

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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