BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – Slobodan Milosevic refuses to recognize a team of lawyers appointed by the U.N. war crimes tribunal to assist his defense and won't have any contact with them, his Belgrade lawyer said Friday.
Zdenko Tomanovic, a legal adviser and friend of the Milosevic family, told The Associated Press that the former Yugoslav president rejected any help at his coming trial in The Hague, Netherlands.
"By taking action, any of the appointed lawyers ... are becoming accomplices in a staged political process against the Yugoslav leader who defended the country against the NATO aggressors," Tomanovic quoted Milosevic as telling him in a phone conversation Thursday.
The lawyers — a Briton, a Yugoslav and a Dutchman — were appointed Thursday. They are to act as "friends of the court," not as defense counsel. Although they will not represent Milosevic, they are assigned to ensure that his rights and interests are protected so he gets a fair trial, the court said.
"The appointment of the lawyers without his consent further assured Milosevic that the court is fake and illegal," Tomanovic said.
Milosevic, who has made two confrontational appearances before the tribunal since his transfer to The Hague on June 28, has said he considers the court illegal and refuses to recognize its right to try him. His rejection of the court-appointed lawyers has no legal effect.
The instructions of the court require the lawyers to prepare pretrial motions, to make submissions or objections during trial testimony, and to point out any mitigating evidence that could help Milosevic. They would not initiate a defense strategy.
One of the lawyers, Belgrade-based Branislav Tapuskovic, told the AP that he will remain a member of the court-appointed team despite Milosevic's rejection.
"I've been a lawyer for 35 years, I never shied away from politically sensitive cases and I'm not going to do that now," Tapuskovic said. He said he would try to protect Milosevic's rights at the tribunal's next hearing, set for Oct. 29.
At Milosevic's latest hearing last week, the prosecution asked the three-judge panel to go beyond appointing friends of the court and override Milosevic's objections by assigning him a defense attorney.
The court ruled that Milosevic, who has a law degree, is entitled to represent himself.
Milosevic, who ruled Yugoslavia for 13 years, is charged with crimes against humanity and other violations of international law in Serbia's repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999.
Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has said she will submit two other indictments next month for crimes allegedly committed during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, including charges of genocide in Bosnia. If the three indictments are tried simultaneously, the trial likely will not begin until late next year.
Meanwhile, Belgrade newspapers reported Friday that exhumations have begun on a fourth mass grave believed to contain the bodies of ethnic Albanians slain in Milosevic's Kosovo crackdown.
The independent Glas daily reported that two human bones, two coats and parts of a freezer truck in which the bodies were apparently transferred from Kosovo were discovered as exhumations started at a mass grave site in western Serbia, near the border with Bosnia.
Investigators so far have exhumed more than 340 bodies from three other mass graves that were unearthed in Serbia proper this year.
The graves were discovered months after a pro-Western government ousted Milosevic last October. Police have said that by transferring the bodies from Kosovo, Milosevic tried to cover up war crimes evidence.