//UN court rejects Milosevic plea

UN court rejects Milosevic plea

Hague seeks to speed Milosevic trial Feb 24, 2006

The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague rejected Slobodan Milosevic’s request for provisional release from detention in the Netherlands to travel to Russia for medical treatment, the court said.

"The request is denied," the court said in a written decision. "The trial chamber is not satisfied… that the accused, if released, would return for the continuation of the trial."

But the court said doctors treating Milosevic for a heart condition and high blood pressure could look after the former Serb president in the Netherlands, where he is on trial for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.

The trial has already lasted four years and is expected to end this year.

"I consider the decision to be utterly unjust," Milosevic, who earlier this week said his health was worsening, told the court.

Two cardiologists treating Milosevic in The Hague have warned he is at risk of a potentially life threatening condition known as a hypertensive emergency, when surges in blood pressure can damage the heart, kidneys and central nervous system.

But prosecutors suspect Milosevic’s wife and son live in Moscow and had opposed his release despite a promise by Russia to return him. They feared he could say his health stops him from travelling back to The Hague.

Russia and Yugoslavia were close allies in the 1990s, and Moscow opposed the NATO bombing campaign that led to Milosevic’s overthrow in 2000. Milosevic was sent to The Hague in June 2001.

Milutin Mrkonjic, a senior official of Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia, said he was surprised by the decision.

"I am stunned. Everything indicated that they would approve his plea. He is really sick and he would certainly not run away from his responsibilities and from defending himself at the Hague court," Mrkonjic told Reuters.

Edgar Chen, from the Coalition for International Justice which monitors the trial, said he supported the ruling as Milosevic could not be trusted to return to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) hearings.

"Milosevic has always decried the legitimacy of the tribunal and its rules and Russia has been known to harbour ICTY suspect-fugitives," Chen said.

Milosevic’s ill health has repeatedly delayed the trial that entered its fifth year this week. The former Serb strongman is defending himself and has refused to cooperate with court-appointed lawyers who are on standby to fill in for him.

Milosevic is charged with 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in complex indictments covering conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo in the 1990s. The maximum sentence the tribunal can impose is life imprisonment.

Source: Reuters