Appeals Court Hears Milosevic Plea

Slobodan Milosevic's (search) court-appointed lawyer asked an appeals court Thursday to allow the former Yugoslav president to conduct his own defense against war crimes charges.

Arguing passionately for his own dismissal, British barrister Steven Kay told the five-judge U.N. panel that the lower court had deprived Milosevic of a fundamental right when it barred him from presenting his own case.

A full day of hearings was scheduled, and there was no indication when the appeals court would deliver its ruling.

Milosevic, the first head of state to be brought before an international tribunal, faces 66 charges, including genocide, stemming from the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, in Europe's most important war crimes case since World War II (search).

Acting on medical reports, the trial court ruled last month that Milosevic was too ill to continue acting as his own defense attorney, and assigned Kay to represent him. The former president suffers recurring high blood pressure which doctors say could be fatal under continued stress.

Milosevic, who has never accepted the court's legitimacy, protested that the ruling was "a scandal" and refused to speak to his assigned lawyer.

"One cannot think of a more fundamental right, more in the interest of justice, more going to the fairness of a trial, than the right to present your defense as you want to present it, rather than how somebody else would like for you to present it," Kay said.

Kay said he cannot adequately present Milosevic's case as long as the defendant refuses to instruct him on the lines of the defense.

"I feel such a conflict that we are ineffective in this trial and we are unable to say we are acting in the interest of justice," he said. People are "kidding themselves, making believe that what is happening here is a proper defense."

"This will not be a trial viewed by history with certainty and approval" as a fair trial, he said.

The prosecution has charged that Milosevic was deliberately obstructing the proceedings by refusing to take medication prescribed by court-appointed cardiologists, causing delays in the 32-month old trial.

Kay countered that Milosevic never accepted the medical results and wanted to have his own doctors examine him, which the lower court refused to allow. Kay called that an "an error of discretion," and asked the five-judge appellate court to reconsider.

The appeals hearing came while the regular trial proceeded, although Kay has acknowledged that defense witnesses lined up by Milosevic were refusing to testify unless the Serb leader is allowed to conduct the case. Kay has examined only four witnesses.