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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Milosevic Genocide Case Opens

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- UN prosecutors accused Slobodan Milosevic on Thursday of scheming to ethnically cleanse Croatia and Bosnia as they opened a genocide case alleging Europe's worst human rights violations since World War II.

Genocide is the gravest of 61 charges the former Yugoslav president faces in this Croatia and Bosnia stage of the biggest international war crimes hearing in Europe since Hitler's henchmen were tried at Nuremberg in 1945-46.

Milosevic argued that Serbs simply defended themselves in the Bosnian and Croatian conflicts and were themselves genocide victims as Western powers engineered the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Prosecutors closed their case two weeks ago on Kosovo, where Milosevic and former aides are accused of expelling almost one-third of the Albanian population from the Serbian province.

Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice listed mass killings, persecution and deportation of non-Serbs and destruction of mosques and churches in an alleged Milosevic-masterminded "joint criminal enterprise" to create an ethnically pure Greater Serbia.

"The systematic and organized way in which attacks against non-Serb civilian populations in Croatia were carried out revealed a carefully designed scheme and strategy within an overall plan that may be laid at the door of this accused," Nice told the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, where Milosevic's trial began in February.

Nice displayed a map illustrating the demographic effects of Serb ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. "A tidy map, bought by thousands of killings, innumerable acts of inhumanity, and countless acts of ethnic cleansing," he called it.

The 43-month siege of Sarajevo, the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, killings after the emptying of Croatia's Vukovar hospital -- prosecutors catalogued atrocities that shocked the world during Milosevic's 1990-97 strongman reign as Serbian president.

The Bosnia and Croatia indictments cover 1991-95, predating the Kosovo indictment's 1999 remit. They boast every crime on the Hague tribunal's statute, including genocide in Bosnia.

"I invested all my power in achieving peace. Serbia and myself deserve recognition for working for peace in the area and not being a protagonist of war," said Milosevic, 61, in an opening speech that repeated now familiar attacks on indictments he called false and a court he condemned as illegal.

The first head of state ever to be indicted for such crimes while in office refused to plead when he was sent to The Hague in 2001 and judges entered not guilty pleas on his behalf.

Milosevic insisted Serbia simply helped Serbs in what he termed civil wars in Yugoslavia. He said the Vatican gave Croats money for arms and asked why that was not seen as a crime.

"As Serbs helped Serbia I am a criminal, but the Vatican helped Croats to secede by violent means but the Pope remains the Holy Father," he said to laughter from the public gallery.

Prosecutor Nice warned not to expect smoking guns, or a star witness whose evidence alone would convict Milosevic: "All [the] witnesses will provide differing shafts of light, but it is unlikely there will be an individual who will be able to tell the whole truth about this man," he said.

Witnesses will include former members of Milosevic's inner circle, such as former Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic, military commanders and international figures, Nice said.

"Each will be able to provide a small view of the accused. It is the composition of those views that in due course will establish the guilt of this man."

Milosevic operated in a "curiously empty room," dealing with people on a one-to-one basis so they would not know what was being said to others, Nice told the three-judge bench.