THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A former Yugoslav president testified Tuesday that Slobodan Milosevic (search) could not have ordered the mass slaughter at Srebrenica, Europe's worst massacre since World War II.
In a potentially serious setback for prosecutors, Zoran Lilic told the court he believed Milosevic had no role in ordering the deaths of at least 7,500 Muslims near Srebrenica during the Bosnian war in 1995. U.N. prosecutors have charged Milosevic with genocide for the killings.
"I am sure he could not have issued an order of that kind," Lilic said at the U.N. war crimes court at The Hague. "I am quite certain the president didn't ... have influence on a decision of that kind."
Lilic, president of Yugoslavia from 1993 to 1997, described Milosevic's anger after hearing about the slaughter, saying Milosevic believed it would undermine the Serb strongman's efforts to project himself as a peacemaker during the Dayton, Ohio, talks that ultimately ended the 3 1/2 year war.
Prosecutors are seeking to link Milosevic's wartime government policies to widespread atrocities during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.
Milosevic, who is defending himself against 66 counts of alleged war crimes at the U.N. court, was the president of Serbia throughout Lilic's term, but had de facto political and military power throughout the federation.
Although only a figurehead official at the time, Lilic was still considered an ally of Milosevic, only cutting his ties with the Serb strongman when Milosevic took up the Yugoslav presidency in 1997.
Last summer, Lilic was subpoenaed as a prosecution witness and brought to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, but once inside the courtroom he refused to testify against Milosevic, demanding additional guarantees he would not be prosecuted for revealing state secrets.
Lilic, who has been awaiting his testimony in the Netherlands since last week, was accompanied in court by his own attorney.
Like earlier witnesses, Lilic described how Milosevic pensioned off or dismissed top military generals and replaced those not loyal to him, bypassing the military leadership.
He told prosecutors Milosevic had promoted the idea of a united Serb nation, seeking to block the independence of the former states of Yugoslav inhabited by Serbs, leading to the wars in Bosnia and Croatia from 1991-1995.