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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Milosevic Set for 'Battle' of Trial

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia/THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Slobodan Milosevic goes on trial Tuesday accused of masterminding ethnic cleansing in the Balkans in the 1990s in the biggest European war crimes trial since Hitler's henchmen were tried at Nuremberg.

The former Yugoslav president is charged by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague with crimes against humanity in Croatia in 1991-92, genocide in the 1992-95 Bosnian war and crimes against humanity in Kosovo in 1999.

The trial, a milestone for international justice, will probe his role in three bitter wars that convulsed the former communist Yugoslavia after its multi-ethnic republics were torn apart by nationalist fighting at the end of the Cold War.

Milosevic has dismissed the charges as a vengeful conspiracy by the West to tarnish the memory of a 13-year rule. The wars sucked the West, the United Nations and NATO into shuttle diplomacy, fraught peacekeeping, sanctions and airstrikes.

"I am fully prepared to come to any hearing, because this is not a battle that I will miss," Milosevic boldly told the court last month in his final showdown with prosecutors and judges before his trial.

Milosevic plans to use his war-crimes trial opening Tuesday as a pulpit to accuse the West of cynically watching the old Yugoslavia tear itself into small, weak states while blaming the bloodshed on Serbs.

But do not expect former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to break down on the witness stand at the tribunal and confess it was all a plot.

Unless he can expose guilty secrets or dirty deals during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, all the former Serbian leader may be able to do is make the West relive old embarrassments.

By calling -- as his supporters say he will attempt to do -- on the likes of Albright or former U.S. President Bill Clinton to testify, he could highlight original Western efforts to keep the doomed Yugoslav federation together.

He can also show that until they broke ties irrevocably with him over his Kosovo tactics in 1999, Western leaders grateful for his role in ending the Bosnia war in 1995 accepted him, albeit grudgingly, as a man they could do business with.

Milosevic may try to cite diplomatic traffic and transcripts from the period as proof of tacit Western approval, even in some cases encouragement, for his anti-breakup policies.

Through other eyes, however, this is likely to be seen as just more evidence of the West's equivocation and ambivalence in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia.

From massacres, mass graves and gruesome detention camps to the plight of refugees forced to leave their shattered homes, the proceedings against the former Serb strongman will cover the most bitter fighting in Europe since World War II.

More than 1 million people were imprisoned or forced from their homes and thousands were killed, maimed and wounded during the three conflicts.

Milosevic, who lost power to reformists in Belgrade after elections in 2000, has branded the court "illegal" and the charges against him "monstrous." He has chosen not to appoint defense counsel in a show of contempt for the court.

The tribunal has entered "not guilty" pleas on his behalf to all three indictments and appointed three prominent international lawyers as friends of the court to ensure he has a fair trial.

Milosevic was charged with war crimes in Kosovo in 1999. Indictments on Croatia and Bosnia followed last year. Prosecutors will deal first with Kosovo before introducing evidence from the two earlier conflicts.

The Kosovo indictment accuses him of responsibility, alongside four other senior Serbs, for the murder of 900 Kosovo Albanians and the expulsion of around 800,000 civilians from their homes.

In the Croatia indictment, he is accused of responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Croats and other non-Serbs between 1991-92 and the deportation of 170,000.

The Bosnia indictment is the gravest of the three, including the charge of genocide.

The silver-haired grandfather is accused of responsibility in Bosnia for the Srebrenica massacre of several thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys, the siege of Sarajevo and the deportation or imprisonment of more than a quarter of a million.

Milosevic, who has already spent seven months behind bars in The Hague, could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte reckons on the trial lasting two years, enough time for big names to show up at the hearings.

In a bid to prove a systematic criminal conspiracy to carve a Greater Serbia out of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, the prosecution intends to move backward in time, from Kosovo in 1999 -- said to be its best-prepared dossier -- to the earlier conflicts.