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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Trial Is Justice to Some, A Conspiracy to Others

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- In cafes and homes across Kosovo and the rest of the Balkans, people paused to watch the start of Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial and reflect on the atrocities that so many suffered at the hands of his forces.

The sight of the former Yugoslav president brought an outpouring of emotions at the table of Shaip Lushaku, 60, who watched the trial over coffee in the capital, Pristina. A video played during the session showing Kosovo's conflict triggered memories of political repression and war.

"I feel so touched," he said, tears rolling down his cheeks. "He has left so many families crying for the rest of their lives."

The trial's opening phase, which may last four months, will focus on the deaths of hundreds of Kosovo Albanians by Serbian security forces and the expulsion of some 800,000 people from their homes in 1998-99.

Milosevic could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted of any of the charges.

Millions of people across the Balkans stopped to watch the opening, riveted by the spectacle of the day the so-called Butcher of the Balkans faced justice.

For some, like Munira Subasic, 63, a trial in the immaculate confines of the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, fell short of expectations. Subasic lost her only son, her husband and several other male members of her family during the 1995 massacre that occurred after the Serbs overran the eastern enclave of Srebrenica.

She and other survivors gathered Tuesday in a small room that serves as the headquarters for a widows' association. They watched in a silence only occasionally broken by a sob or two.

"The Hague is too good for him," Subasic said.

In the predominantly Serb part of Bosnia, dozens huddled in cafes, but watched silently.

Some later said the trial itself proves that the Serbs are victims of an international conspiracy. They refused to be quoted by name, apparently deeming it unhealthy to identify with the accused.

The view that the Serb people are being targeted is widely held in Belgrade. Ivica Dacic, a top official of Milosevic's Socialist Party, insisted that despite Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte's assurances that the trial is about Milosevic's guilt alone, it will in the end be a trial against all Serbs.

"It will be remembered in the history of Serbian people," Dacic said.

Nedeljko Antonovic, 44, a Serb refugee from Kosovo, said he was certain that Milosevic's trial would be tainted by what he described as a Western bias against all Serbs. No one, he argued, wants to hear about the fact that his home was burned down.

"We're going to see only a part of truth," he said. "Will anything be said about thousands of Serbs who were killed?"