THE WAR crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic has been saved from imminent collapse after The Hague tribunal reluctantly agreed yesterday to combine indictments relating to three wars in the Balkans - Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo - in a single trial.
Mr Milosevic, the first head of state to face international trial for war crimes in the modern era, faces 66 charges altogether. The United Nations court had originally planned to try him separately for crimes against humanity in Kosovo in 1999. It planned a second trial on charges of crimes against humanity in Croatia in 1991 and genocide during the war in Bosnia, which ran from 1992 to 1995.
But tribunal appeals judges overturned a lower chamber's decision to hold two separate trials after prosecutors made an impassioned plea at a hearing on Wednesday for a single trial on the basis that witnesses would only have to testify once. They argued that the three conflicts were inextricably linked and that Mr Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing - by expulsion and murder - of non-Serbs from large parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo was part of a deliberate plan to create a "Greater Serbia".
The prosecution - who feared that a trial devoted to Kosovo alone could collapse because of the refusal of Mr Milosevic's key aides to testify against him - will be relieved by yesterday's judgement.
The trial, which is set to begin on 12 February, will be the most significant war crimes case since Hitler's henchmen faced the court at Nuremberg after the Second World War. Rwanda's former prime minister Jean Kambanda was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity by a UN tribunal last year, but the charges against him were not defined as war crimes.
Mr Milosevic has said he does not recognise the legitimacy of the UN tribunal or the charges against him. He maintains that because he is the only head of state to go on trial for war crimes he has clearly been singled out by the West for a show trial and selective punishment. "By adding up three lies you will not get to the truth, you will enlarge the lie," he said during Wednesday's hearing.
The chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, stressed that a single trial will benefit the victims and their families. "It is very important for the victims to have a single trial, because they can hear all the facts in the same procedure and see justice done at the same time," she said.
Yesterday's decision by the five-member panel, headed by French judge Claude Jorda, was unanimous. …