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Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2002

Victims confront Milosevic at war crimes tribunal

February 21, 2002

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— A Kosovo Albanian farmer who escaped death when Serbs killed 16 members of his family testified Wednesday in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. He was the the first victim of the carnage in Kosovo to confront the former Yugoslav president.

But Milosevic, combative and self-assured, wrung admissions from his accusers that anti-Serb guerrillas were active in Kosovo, suggesting that Serb forces were engaged in legitimate operations against "terrorists."

Agim Zeqiri, from the village of Celina, told the U.N. war crimes tribunal that he hid in a ditch as Serb forces ransacked and torched his village in the 1999 crackdown.

Zeqiri, 49, said Serb police and soldiers killed nearly his entire family, including his 18-month-old baby. He was later caught and beaten, but managed to flee to Albania.

"I didn't know anything about my family when I fled," Zeqiri said. He spent nearly two weeks recovering in a hospital.

He first heard of his family's fate when his cousin phoned him from Germany.

Returning home, he found his livestock dead and his home pillaged. "I didn't find anything there. It was all gone," the witness said. "They had burned all the best homes."

By presenting so-called crime-scene testimony, prosecutors seek to establish a foundation of fact for their case that Milosevic had ultimate responsibility for illegal actions by Serb forces.

The prosecution says Serb forces, under Milosevic's command, murdered thousands of ethnic Albanians and deported 800,000 during a crackdown in the Serbian prov-ince, which prompted a 78-day bombing campaign by NATO against Yugoslavia in 1999.

War crimes in Kosovo comprise the first of three indictments Milosevic faces, and he is the only suspect brought to trial for crimes in that province. He also is accused of crimes against humanity in Croatia and genocide in Bosnia. He could be sentenced to life if found guilty of any one of 66 counts.

Milosevic was confident that prosecutors will be unable to link the crimes in Kosovo to his government. "You will have to have concrete evidence that I ordered the perpetrators of those crimes to carry them out. Otherwise, what sense and meaning do these spots in which the people were killed have to do with the accusations against me?" he said.

A second witness from the prosecution team, intelligence analyst Stephen Spargo, displayed a series of maps showing alleged deportation routes by Kosovo Albanians.

Cross-examining Spargo, Milosevic asked whether he knew 100,000 Serbs left Kosovo at the same time, trying to support his contention that people fled from the NATO bombing, not from Serb forces. Spargo answered that he had not been assigned to document Serb displacements.

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