Prosecution under Fire as Milosevic Trial Begins

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PROSECUTORS AT the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic, which starts in The Hague today, have been accused of poor preparation and warned that their reputation is on the line.

Michail Wladimiroff, one of three neutral lawyers whose job is to ensure the hearing is fair, said some work by Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor, had been rushed and given insufficient thought. His comments are the first public criticism of the prosecution from a senior figure at the tribunal, and seem to arise in part from the deluge of hundreds of pages of prosecution documents.

When Mr Milosevic appears this morning in a court which he refuses to recognise, he faces charges of crimes against humanity and genocide in Kosovo in 1999, and in Bosnia and Croatia between 1991 and 1995. The former Yugoslav leader, the first head of state to face an international war crimes tribunal, faces life in prison if convicted. He was said to be in a "very good mood" yesterday as he put the final touches to a lengthy address he hopes to deliver today.

The case, the biggest war crimes trial since the Nuremberg hearings at the end of the Second World War, is seen as the coming of age for the tribunal which was created in 1993. ButProfessor Wladimiroff - one of three amici curiae (or friends of the court) also believes it to be a test for Ms Del Ponte and her colleagues. "If any reputation is at stake," he told The Independent, "it is not the judges it is the prosecution."

Ms Del Ponte and her colleagues had, he added "been ambushed by their own ambush. They have rushed to perform a task which needed more reflection". Professor Wladi-miroff, a Dutch legal expert, is among three lawyers appointed because Mr Milosevic does not accept the jurisdiction of the court and has refused to appoint defence counsel.

The amici curiae cannot take instructions from Mr Milosevic but can cross- examine witnesses and make legal arguments based on the defendant's comments, to help ensure a fair trial.

Professor Wladimiroff, who works from an office a couple of miles from the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, says preparations for the Kosovo trial were put on hold, after the indictment of Mr Milosevic because no one was expecting him to be handed over to The Hague. "They put the whole thing in a drawer and forgot about it, " he said, "They have realised that to take this case out of the drawer".

The charges for Bosnia, which include genocide, and Croatia, have presented the prosecution with "enormous problems", Mr Wladimiroff added. "Even today binders are coming in ... They have so much material it needs more time and reflection before you can choose how to proceed. Is that ideal way to run a trial of this magnitude?"

Steven Kay, another amicus curiae, said 25 files on exhibits had been delivered by the prosecution without cross-reference to their place in the trial.

The arguments were rejected by Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for Ms Del Ponte, who said extensive work had been done to find new evidence after Mr Milosevic's fall from power, and the indictment had been amended. "From September 1999 until now we never stopped investigations," she said. …