THE HAGUE, Netherlands – An angry Slobodan Milosevic argued in the courtroom Friday with a former British envoy who said he had cautioned the former Yugoslav president that he could be indicted for war crimes over the campaign of terror in Kosovo.
"I warned you that you would end up in this court, and here you are," said Paddy Ashdown, recalling a meeting with Milosevic in Belgrade in September 1998.
"This was a conflict with the KLA," Milosevic retorted, referring to the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. "The army and police tried to bring law and order in their territory," he said. "Should we have allowed tens of thousands more people to be killed before we used, as you called it, 'excessive force?"'
"Maybe you saw it necessary to shoot cattle, burn houses," Ashdown said. But the former Balkan envoy said that he saw it as "a punitive campaign the likes of which has not been seen since the days of the German occupation."
Appearing for the prosecution in Milosevic's trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal, Ashdown remained calm, sometimes shaking his finger at Milosevic in an I-told-you-so gesture. He accused the former president of deliberately conducting a "scorched earth policy" to drive ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo.
Milosevic raised his voice several times and appeared agitated, losing the composure and sarcasm he employed when cross-examining survivors and victims earlier in the trial.
Ashdown, the former leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats who has been nominated to be the next U.N. High Representative in Bosnia, is the first Western leader to appear in the trial, which began Feb. 12. Milosevic is charged with 66 counts of war crimes, including genocide, in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia.
In his testimony, the British politician described his meeting with the then-Yugoslav president the day after he witnessed a Yugoslav army offensive in Kosovo's Suva Reka Valley in 1998, six months before NATO launched its air war against Yugoslavia to drive out its forces from Kosovo.
In Belgrade, Ashdown said he handed Milosevic a letter from Prime Minister Tony Blair conveying concern over Milosevic's "excessive and indiscriminate use of force" in Kosovo. "The present situation is intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue," said Blair's letter, exhibited in court.
Ashdown added he begged Milosevic to stop the crackdown. "I said to him what I'd witnessed could only be described as indiscriminate, punitive and designed to drive innocent civilians out."
In his testimony, Ashdown said he told Milosevic in Belgrade that "if he continued with these gross, flagrant violations of international law, he would make himself indictable for war crimes."
He said he warned Milosevic of an "impending humanitarian disaster," and added: "I told him that I found it disgraceful that a president of a country could treat his citizens, whatever their ethnic origin ... in such a fashion."