THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Slobodan Milosevic cross-examined the first witness in his war crimes trial Tuesday, seeking to discredit a Kosovo Albanian politician who said the Yugoslav government imposed a form of apartheid in the Serbian province.
At times sarcastic and patronizing, Milosevic read from a stack of hand written notes as he vigorously questioned the former head of the Communist Party in Kosovo, Mahmut Bakalli.
On Monday, Bakalli told the court that the Yugoslav leadership under Milosevic had planned to wipe out 700 Muslim settlements in Kosovo as part of a "scorched earth policy," but that the Serb security forces were unhappy with the plan.
After a week of opening statements from the defense and the prosecution, Bakalli's testimony and crossexamination initiated the evidentiary stage of the trial, which could last up to two years.
Milosevic, 60, is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kosovo and Croatia, and of genocide in Bosnia during the 1991-99 Balkan wars. He could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted on any one of 66 counts.
In his 10-hour opening statement, he scorned charges that he was responsible for thousands of murders and nearly a million deportations, and accused Western countries of inflaming ethnic tensions to hasten the disintegration of Yugoslavia and assert their domination.
Milosevic confronted Bakalli on his testimony in which Bakalli said Milosevic had known of the 1998 killing of 40 members of the Jashari family. Under tribunal precedent, the defendant may be convicted of war crimes committed by subordinates if he was aware of the crimes and declined to prevent them or punish the perpetrators.
Describing one of his meetings with Milosevic in 1998, Bakalli said: "I told him: 'You are killing women and children,"' referring to the police action against the Jasharis in the village of Prekaz.
"He knew about the incident," Bakalli said.
In a series of rapid-fire questions, Milosevic asked the witness: "Did you know that they did not want to surrender and they shot at policemen?"
"Do you know that the ones that came out did not get killed?"
"Do you know of any police that would flee when they are fired at from a barricaded position?"
Bakalli said he did not have details of the killing, but that he knew women and children were among the victims. He accused Milosevic of responsibility for the deaths of "12,000 people, women and children, pregnant women, claiming you were fighting terrorism." His figures of Kosovo casualties was far higher than commonly accepted.
Presiding judge Richard May of Britain repeatedly intervened, asking Milosevic to either ask a question or "give him a chance to respond."
Under Milosevic's questioning, Bakalli said a parallel, underground education system was set up in Kosovo to reintroduce classes on Albanian history, culture and language that were dropped from the curriculum imposed by the Serb government.
"You and your people imposed the curriculum," the witness said. "The parallel provincial system of schools was set up because of apartheid."
Milosevic asked Bakalli, a university professor, to explain the meaning of apartheid and then recommended he read the U.N. definition of the word "before he use it again."
Bakalli was fired by the Yugoslav leadership in the early 1980s for allegedly organizing pro-independence protests by Kosovo Albanians. He disappeared from public view until 1998 when he became a member of a Kosovo Albanian delegation that negotiated the reopening of Albanian-language universities in Kosovo.
Prosecutors say they will call about 30 "insiders" to give details about a Serb strategy to create a "Greater Serbia" that involved clearing large areas of the former Yugoslav republics of non-Serb populations.