DICTATOR IN THE DOCK: DAY 1: MEDIEVAL SAVAGERY; Milosevic 'Was a Monstrous Butcher' 260 Murdered in Just One Village
Byline: DON MACKAY in The Hague
FORMER Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was accused of "almost medieval savagery and calculated cruelty" yesterday as his war crimes trial opened.
Milosevic stands accused of ordering the slaughter of thousands of people during a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.
In the most important war crimes hearing since the Nuremberg trials of Adolf Hitler's Nazi henchmen at the end of the Second World War, 60-year-old Milosevic faces life imprisonment for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Dressed in smart blue suit, with his white-hair neatly clipped, he lounged back in a chair as the horror of ethnic cleansing, murder and crimes against humanity were outlined by United Nations prosecutors in The Hague.
Milosevic sat glancing round the trial chamber in a converted insurance office block as Case Number IT-02-54T began.
Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told the three UN judges: "The chamber will now begin the trial of this man for the wrongs he is said to have done to the people of his own country and to his neighbours.
"How simple that statement is to make today. How easily those words pass into the record of these proceedings and yet how remarkable it is that I am able to speak them here.
"Today, as never before, we see international justice in action."
The case, she said, would be a powerful demonstration that "no-one is above the law" or beyond the reach of justice.
She said the tribunal should pause to recall "the daily scenes of grief and suffering that came to define armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia."
The deputy prosecutor, British barrister Geoffrey Nice, gave stark examples from three conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, which add up to the 66 charges against Milosevic.
Mr Nice said: "On a day in November 1991, in the village of Vukovar, Croatia, there was a 58-year-old man and his wife who went to a hospital seeking protection. They were beaten, intimidated and abused.
"That man will be a witness and he will be here to tell you that, in all, 260 were slaughtered."
A year later in Visegrad, Bosnia, a young woman was pregnant when the town was taken over by a group, said Mr Nice. "She and many others took to the woods and that night she gave birth to a daughter.
"In due course that woman, her baby and many others, including 45 members of her extended family, were...taken to a house, already prepared with petrol-soaked floors and walls, and burnt alive.
"The baby's screams could be heard for two hours before she, too, succumbed."
Not one flicker of emotion could be seen on the face of the man dubbed the Butcher of Belgrade as he lounged back in his seat with an armed guard on either side.
Mr Nice moved on seven years to Kosovo and the murders and ethnic cleansing that went on there.
"In the town of Qirez some 50 women, including a mother and daughter, were gathered together for safety and taken, not to a mosque as promised, but to a house.
"The mother and the daughter were taken out from time-to-time by the abusing soldiers and would return in a state of obvious fear.
"The daughter and six others were taken out and the others managed to escape.
"But the daughter and the six others were found at the bottom of three different wells after being dropped down them alive."
Mr Nice added: "Did he know what was happening? Of course he did. Why did he not stop these things that were occurring?
"He did not confront his victims.
"He was able to view events from high political office.
"He had these crimes committed for him by others."
Mr Nice added: "In these days when press, radio and television bring wars into our homes as they occur, he cannot not have known. …