Milosevic Defiant Before War Crimes Tribunal

July 3, 2001 -- A defiant Slobodan Milosevic refused to cooperate with the U.N. war crimes tribunal today when he appeared for the first time on charges of crimes against humanity allegedly carried out during his time as Yugoslavia's president.

Milosevic refused a lawyer for the appearance and also refused to enter a plea.

"I consider this tribunal [a] false tribunal and indictments false indictments. It is illegal, so I have no need to appoint counsel," an uncooperative Milosevic said in English today at The Hague.

He is charged with crimes against humanity and is the first former head of state to appear as a defendant before the tribunal.

Milosevic, dressed in a dapper dark suit with a striped tie, switched to Serbo-Croat when asked by the International War Crimes Tribunal if he wanted to enter a plea — but instead of answering, he said the tribunal was convened to cover up NATO atrocities in Kosovo.

The International War Crimes Tribunal entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf, then adjourned until the week of Aug. 27. Milosevic appeared to check his watch as the proceeding came to a hasty conclusion after barely 10 minutes.

‘That’s Your Problem’

Since he chose to represent himself, Milosevic appeared before the tribunal alone, flanked only by two security guards. However, his Belgrade lawyers were seen going into the court earlier in the morning. He has the right to bring in legal representation later in the proceedings.

The former Yugoslav president appeared at times somber, bored and defiant. At times he rested his hand on his chin. At other points, he looked on darkly with a furrowed brow.

But one aspect did not change: Milosevic was determined not to lend any legitimacy to the proceedings by cooperating.

Presiding Judge Richard May told Milosevic he had a right to hear the indictment — a move that could have taken several hours.

"This is a right you may also waive. Now, do you want to have the indictment read out, or not?," May asked.

But Milosevic continued his non-cooperation.

"That's your problem," he snapped in English. A smattering of laughter could be heard from the observers in the gallery.

When asked if he wanted to enter a plea, or take 30 days to consider it, Milosevic was equally explicit.

"This trial's aim is to produce false justification for the war crimes of NATO committed in Yugoslavia," he said in Serbo-Croatian.

The tribunal entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.

"As I have said, the aim of this tribunal is to justify the crimes committed in Yugoslavia. That is why this a false tribunal, and illegitimate," Milosevic replied, but was cut off by the English judge.

"Mr. Milosevic, this is not the time for speeches. As I have said, you will have the full opportunity, in due course, todefend yourself and to make your defense before the tribunal," May admonished. "This is not the moment to do so."

The Decline and Fall

Milosevic was indicted by the tribunal in 1999, charged with crimes against humanity and accused of orchestrating atrocities allegedly committed in Kosovo during the crackdown he ordered on the province's ethnic Albanian population. The crackdown ended after NATO's 78-day bombing campaign.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Milosevic had been held in Belgrade's Central Prison since April while authorities were investigating allegations of corruption and abuse of power during his tenure. He was ousted last fall in a popular uprising. He was turned over to the tribunal last week.

On Friday, the United States rewarded Belgrade for handing over the former Serb strongman to The Hague by attending a donors' conference in Brussels, Belgium. Along with other Western donors, the United States pledged $1.28 billion in aid.

Washington has maintained it would commit itself to aid — desperately needed in the war-ravaged country — only after Yugoslavia established that it was serious about handing over the man once known as "the Butcher of the Balkans" to an international war crimes tribunal.

During the course of his 13-year authoritarian reign, Milosevic fomented a reawakening of Serb nationalism that saw his country through crippling wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo and the rending of the old state of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines.

ABCNEWS' Nick Watt at The Hague and Barbara Starr in Washington contributed to this report.

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