In the first interview with a U.S. journalist since April 1999, former Yugoslav President and accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic said on Thursday he is sorry lives were lost during ethnic violence in Kosovo, but defiantly defended his role in the conflict.
"All of us are sorry for the death of any, any person all around the world, there is no question that anybody is happy for the death of any person anywhere," Milosevic said in a phone interview with Fox News' Rita Cosby, from outside his prison cell in The Hague.
Milosevic has been held on war crimes charges since June 29. He is charged for his role in the 1999 killing of thousands of ethnic Albanians, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more who lived in Kosovo, a province in the truncated Yugoslavia, which Milosevic ruled from 1990 until this year.
Despite his apology, Milosevic remained defiant about his role in Kosovo, and blamed NATO for Balkan aggression.
"I'm proud for everything I did in defending my country and my people. All my decisions are legitimate and legal, based on the constitution of Yugoslavia and based on the rights to self-defense, which belongs to every nation in the world," he said. "And their decision - NATO leaders' decisions - were all criminal," he insisted.
Milosevic denied he ever directed his troops to kill civilians, saying they were under strict orders to "eliminate terrorist groups." He did admit that extrajudicial killings occurred, but claimed perpetrators were punished.
"There are individual crimes, but there was a clear order that any crime has to be punished immediately, and whoever did it, has to be arrested. And the proof that that order was obeyed quite clearly and exactly [the way] it was supposed to be obeyed is the fact that more than 500 different individuals were arrested by the police or the army who were doing so," he said. "Those were consequences of [a] chaotic situation created by [the] massive bombing of NATO."
NATO began its air campaign in April 1999, years after widespread allegations surfaced about ethnic violence in Kosovo. Serb troops withdrew after two months, but Milosevic continued to rule Yugoslavia until he was forced from power by street protests following elections last year.
At that time, U.S. officials told the new president, Vojislav Kostunica, it would lift international sanctions on Yugoslavia if Milosevic were arrested. Those sanctions were lifted after Milosevic was turned over to The Hague.
Milosevic equated his capture to being held as a slave.
"They could trade me for money, I got nothing for that. And I believe that selling of people is something that happened in the long past, not in 21st century."
Milosevic also accused the International Criminal Court of fabricating the evidence against him.
"Of course they have no evidence. They cannot have evidence for things that never happened," he said. "But this so-called tribunal has one specific characteristic. They are able to fabricate the evidence."
He also said he believes he remains a popular figure in Yugoslavia and insisted the government operating in Belgrade now is a "puppet regime."
"I have very, very wide and very strong support within my people. So, they understand how they have brought that puppet regime now in Belgrade with those stolen elections and they understand that that is the way to occupy Yugoslavia, and everything is now worse than it was before despite the fact that there are no sanctions anymore," he said.
Fox News' Rita Cosby and Sharon Kehnemui contributed to this report