Milosevic Refuses to Enter Plea

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic defiantly refused to enter a plea to war crimes charges during his appearance at a U.N. tribunal Tuesday.

"I consider this tribunal false tribunal and indictments false indictments," Milosevic said. "It is illegal, being not appointed by U.N. General Assembly. So I have no need to appoint counsel to illegal organ."

Chief Judge Richard May, who repeatedly admonished Milosevic that this was not the time for speeches, entered a plea of innocent to the four charges, which relate to offenses committed by his forces in Kosovo during the crackdown on ethnic Albanians two years ago.

May adjourned the proceedings until a procedural hearing the last week of August. Milosevic was indicted in May 1999, the first head of state ever charged with war crimes by a U.N. court.

He was specifically charged with: deportation, a crime against humanity; murder, a crime against humanity; murder, a crime against the laws or customs of war; and persecution on ethnic or religious grounds, a crime against humanity.

Milosevic appeared calm and controlled during the 12-minute arraignment.

He stood flanked by two security guards as the three judges entered the chamber and spoke firmly as May asked if he wanted to reconsider his decision to appear without counsel.

Asked if he wanted the court to read the entire, 51-page indictment, Milosevic snapped: "That's your problem."

May then asked him to enter a plea. Instead, Milosevic said in Serbo-Croatian: "This trial's aim is to produce false justification for the war crimes of NATO committed in Yugoslavia."

The judge then repeated his request.

"I have given you my answer,'' Milosevic replied. He began to speak about "this so-called tribunal" when the judge cut him off and entered an innocent plea on his behalf.

"As I have said, the aim of this tribunal is to justify the crimes committed in Yugoslavia,'' Milosevic, 59, responded. "That is why this a false tribunal, and illegitimate." 

The United States and its allies also have accused Milosevic of orchestrating the decade-long wars throughout the Balkans, and the tribunal hopes to indict him by October for offenses in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The crackdown on Kosovo ended after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign, which forced Yugoslav troops and police to hand over the province to the United Nations and a NATO-led peacekeeping force.

Milosevic has consistently maintained that his actions were to save his country from Western domination and that the world has ignored NATO's "crimes," including the bombing of civilian targets in and out of Kosovo.

Milosevic, who was ousted from power in October, was transferred to U.N. custody on Friday by the pro-democracy government of Yugoslavia's republic of Serbia, and is now being held in a Dutch prison. He was arrested in Yugoslavia on April 1, after a chaotic standoff with police.

Pro-democracy forces had planned to charge him with offenses in Yugoslavia, but so far had been unable to bring formal charges. Yugoslav officials complained that evidence had disappeared and witnesses refused to cooperate.

Milosevic, who graduated from law school but never practiced, decided to refuse counsel following a three-hour meeting Monday with two lawyers from Belgrade. Afterward, they told reporters that Milosevic has refused to accept the validity of the court, established in 1993 by the U.N. Security Council to prosecute those believed responsible for crimes committed during Balkan wars.

Milosevic acknowledged the authority of The Hague tribunal when, as president of Serbia, he signed the 1995 Dayton accords ending the war in Bosnia. The agreement committed his government to cooperate with the U.N. court.

"Mr. Milosevic does not recognize The Hague tribunal," Zdenko Tomanovic said. Milosevic believes the tribunal "is part of a mechanism to commit genocide on the Serb people."

Milosevic's claim that his only crime was to stand up against NATO is unlikely to win points with the court. He is gambling that it will bolster his reputation among his own people.

Dutch lawyer Michail Wladimiroff, who represented Bosnian Serb defendant Dusan Tadic before the U.N. court, said defenses based on refusing to acknowledge the tribunal's authority did not work for his client.

"That did not work and I see no reason why it would be different now," Wladimiroff told Dutch television Tuesday.

The United States has provided evidence concerning Milosevic to the tribunal and is prepared to provide additional information, according to the U.S. State Department.

The proceedings against the number one suspect in the decade-long Balkan wars has been a stunning success for the court, which now faces the long and difficult task of convicting a defendant branded the "Butcher of the Balkans."

Ahead of the arraignment, Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt spoke of the "personal satisfaction" in seeing that one of the court's "major targets is being brought before the tribunal."

"It's not going to be an easy prosecution," Blewitt said. "His responsibility for crimes when he was president of Serbia is not going to be easy to prove."

Milosevic's extradition enraged his followers back home and led to a crisis in the pro-democracy federal government of Yugoslavia, which is made up of two republics — Serbia and the much smaller Montenegro.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and politicians from Montenegro opposed the extradition, which was carried out unilaterally by the government of Serbia. Huge protests by Milosevic supporters followed in the capital city of Belgrade.

But in Kosovo, Ethnic Albanians greeted his arraignment with satisfaction.

"It is way too late, but better late then never," said Faton Aliu, 26, who watched Milosevic's defiant appearance from a Pristina tea house. "It is over for him now."

Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told Spain's El Pais newspaper that the trial would begin in six to eight months and last up to two years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.