Prosecutors seek to limit Milosevic cross-examinations

Lengthy questions might deter witnesses, they say

February 27, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Prosecutors in the United Nations war crimes tribunal sought yesterday to clamp down on Slobodan Milosevic's lengthy cross-examinations, saying his grillings could deter witnesses from testifying against him.

"We do have to have in mind the effect that questioning can have on witnesses yet to come," the lead prosecutor, Geoffrey Nice, told judges. "It would be foolish to pretend that this process isn't being given very wide publicity."

His comments came at the end of a day when Milosevic, at times sharply, questioned two ethnic Albanians who said they witnessed executions by Serb forces during the war in Kosovo in 1999.

During the first six days of testimony, Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader who is representing himself, has taken vigorous advantage of his right to ask questions to make his case: that his army and police were not responsible for atrocities.

Yesterday, the judges said that they had allowed such leeway intentionally. There is no jury hearing the case, they noted, and they could decide what was relevant.

"This is not a jury trial, where it is helpful to have counsel bobbing up and down making objections," Richard May, the chief judge, said. "Rather the reverse. It takes up a lot of time and usually is to no point.

"This is a tribunal of professional judges and should be allowed to decide for itself when questions or anything of that sort are improper or not," he said.

All the same, May said, the judges would consider how far to let Milosevic go during cross examinations - especially in his arguments that NATO bombing and armed ethnic Albanian guerrillas known as the Kosovo Liberation Army were responsible for killings in Kosovo.

Since the trial opened two weeks ago, Milosevic has confronted witnesses who say he is to blame for the deaths of relatives and friends.

Judith Armatta, a lawyer for the Coalition for International Justice, an American group that supports the tribunal, said one reason judges might try to keep objections from prosecutors to a minimum was to keep the trial on track.

But she added that Milosevic's questions ran the risk of allowing him too much room to define the case himself.

May has shown decreasing patience for Milosevic's tactic repeatedly asking whether witnesses knew certain Albanian rebels or knew of killings they carried out.

Even before Nice, the prosecutor, registered his concerns, May has been putting pressure on Milosevic to confine his cross examinations to evidence given by witnesses - the general rule for such questions.

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