Serb ex-president faces war crimes verdict

A U.N. tribunal is expected to issue verdicts Thursday in the case against former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and five other top Serb officials accused of war crimes committed in 1999 in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Milutinovic — along with Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic, Nebojsa Pavkovic, Vladimir Lazarevic and Sreten Lukic — are charged with crimes against humanity, including murder and persecution on political, racial or religious grounds. The crimes allegedly took place during a Serb-led military campaign against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population during the first six months of 1999. A NATO bombing campaign forced a halt to the operation and about 16,000 allied peacekeepers remain in the territory. About a year ago, then-U.S. President George W. Bush recognized Kosovo as “an independent and sovereign state,” after Kosovo’s government declared its independence from Serbia. Great Britain and France also recognized Kosovo’s independence, but China and Russia joined Serbia in opposing the move. The case presented to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia alleges that military forces of the former Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia systematically shelled towns and villages, burned homes and farms, damaged and destroyed Kosovo Albanian cultural and religious institutions, killed Kosovo Albanian civilians and other people taking no active part in the hostilities, and sexually assaulted Kosovo Albanian women. The trial in The Hague, Netherlands, began in August 2006, with closing arguments made two years later. The presiding judge is expected to begin reading a summary of the charges and indictments at 2:15 p.m. (1315 GMT). The whole process is expected to last at least two hours. Milutinovic was one of four top Yugoslav leaders indicted along with former President Slobodan Milosevic during the Kosovo war. Milosevic was forced from office in 2000 and handed over to The Hague the following year. He died in 2006 before the end of his trial for war crimes. Milutinovic had been immune from prosecution as president of Serbia. His term ended at the end of 2002. He was a member of Yugoslavia’s Supreme Defense Council during the 1999 conflict, and prosecutors with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia say he had “at least formal control” over Serb forces that expelled about 800,000 people — the province’s Albanian majority.