Confrontation in The Hague


Tribunal: The transcript of the face-off between two former wartime rivals is released.

December 19, 2003|By Kathy Lally

Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the retired U.S. general and former NATO commander, testified this week at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, where Slobodan Milosevic faces charges in the massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.

The session of the United Nations tribunal was closed because of U.S. security concerns, but a transcript of Clark's testimony was released yesterday after review by State Department lawyers.

Clark testified that Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader, knew in advance about the massacre.

Milosevic, who is representing himself, was an aggressive and provocative interrogator, hectoring Clark and accusing him of lying on everything from details of his resume to his testimony about Srebrenica. And he accused Clark of war crimes for the NATO bombing of Kosovo.

The judge often sounded exasperated with Milosevic, who frequently makes long statements rather than asking questions. At one point the judge told Milosevic, "Don't waste your time arguing about these matters."

Following are excerpts from Clark's testimony. The full transcript can be found at

Clark recalls his conversation with Milosevic, then president of Serbia, in Belgrade in August 1995, a month after the Srebrenica massacre:

I approached President Milosevic as he was standing there in a casual setting outside the formal meeting, and I was still wrestling with the idea as to how it is that Milosevic could maintain that he had the authority and the power to deliver the Serb compliance with the agreement.

And so I simply asked him. I said, "Mr. President, you say you have so much influence over the Bosnian Serbs, but how is it then, if you have such influence, that you allowed General [Ratko] Mladic to kill all those people in Srebrenica?"

And Milosevic looked at me and he paused for a moment. He then said, "Well, General Clark," he said, "I warned Mladic not to do this, but he didn't listen to me."

... Well, it was very clear what I was asking was about the massacre at Srebrenica. When I said "kill all these people," it wasn't a military operation, it was the massacre.

And this was in fact what had been in the news. It had been the starting point for the international agreements which led to NATO's increased resolve to see an end to the fighting in the Balkans.

So it was very clear what I was asking. It was also, to me, very clear what Milosevic was answering. He was answering that he did know this in advance, and he was walking the fine line between saying he was powerful enough, influential enough to have known it but trying to excuse from himself the responsibility for having done it. ...

We went there as part of their shuttle diplomacy, and the bombing was going on. President Milosevic had been saying this bombing was bad for peace, and we of course were - the bombing was part of the pressure to convince the Serbs to fall back and release the grip of terror on Sarajevo.

[In 1997] there was a period of struggle around the city of Brcko in which NATO troops ended up on top of a piece of high ground. It so happened there was a television antenna there. We continued to occupy that antenna.

One morning a mob showed up. President Milosevic had previously told me that any time there was trouble, just call him and he could handle it. I called him and I said, "You're going to have to get the mob out of there, they're threatening our troops, and if you don't pull them back, we'll take other actions."

He said, "Well, no, this is just political." I said, "No, it's not political, this is a threat against the troops." It seemed that within a half-hour or so, the mob disappeared. ...

It was clear that he still had extraordinary influence if not control. It was never clear how much, but he'd always said if there was a difficulty, call him, and I did. ...

I warned him that if he didn't comply with the request of the United Nations, that action would be taken against him in the form of bombing. His response was at first to shrug this off, and then on reflection he decided that he would cooperate. He said he would ask his generals - tell his generals to cooperate. ... He certainly indicated the ability to control his generals, absolutely. No question about it.

Clark is asked if he took a strong line with Milosevic about his actions.

Yes, I put this in terms that he could understand what the consequences would be for him and his international position.

I said that "NATO is going to be asking - these leaders are going to be asking what is it that you are trying to do to this country? You forced professors to sign loyalty oaths, you have crushed democracy, you have taken a vibrant economy, you've wrecked it. They're going to be asking, what kind of a leader are you?"

... Well, President Milosevic became very angry and he then - he claimed that there were no loyalty oaths, that Serbia was a democracy, and he accused ... me of threatening him. He - he said, "You are the war criminals."

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