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Wartime NATO chief expects more Milosevic defiance

SHARE Wartime NATO chief expects more Milosevic defiance

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Do not expect Slobodan Milosevic to fold his hand quickly after a defiant opening show at The Hague war crimes tribunal, former NATO supreme commander General Wesley Clark said Tuesday.

Clark said Tuesday's steel performance was only the beginning of what will be a lengthy struggle, which could also indirectly involve the views of governments that do not support the international court, such as China and Russia.

"Milosevic is a combative man. He is an extraordinary man. His arrogance is one of the prime reasons behind the ethnic cleansing that took place," Clark told Reuters in a brief telephone interview from the United States.

The former Yugoslav president, said Clark, "has a Messiah complex."

"He is convinced of his mission as the representative of Serbia. This is something larger than himself."

Asked if he thought Milosevic could keep up his disdain for the international court far into a trial which is expected to last at least a year after beginning on Tuesday with his arraignment, Clark said there was little doubt of it.

"Time is not a factor. This is a guy who waged a 10-year war, remember," the former alliance commander said. "He was also helped by governments that did not cooperate with the West on war crimes."

"The international community must retain patience."

Clark said this was a struggle between one element of the international community trying to extend the reach of international law and another trying to preserve the right, under national sovereignty, to repress and use violence.

The retired U.S. Army general predicted Milosevic would try to argue that the killings which occurred in Kosovo, which he is accused of ordering, were all because of NATO bombing.

The bombing began under Clark's command on March 24, 1999 and lasted for 78 days—NATO's first war in a half century of existence.

"He's going to try to maintain all this was normal. That these are things that happen in war," Clark said.

He noted that NATO's actions against Yugoslavia "have already been examined" by the tribunal, which found the 19-member alliance had no war crimes case to answer.

Convicting Milosevic would confront some allied governments with "the anxious issue" of releasing information that could be used as evidence to prove he orchestrated murder and mass deportation in Kosovo.

Governments with such sensitive intelligence would have to weigh compelling information with the risks of disclosing sources, he said. "But I believe they will release it."

Asked if a Serbian master-plan for Kosovo's ethnic cleansing—called Operation Horseshoe—actually existed, Clark was noncommittal.

"So far as I know, it did," he said. "There have been others who say it didn't."

The plan was reported by German intelligence shortly after the NATO bombing campaign began but no concrete evidence of its existence has been publicly demonstrated.

Clark said the important point to remember was that the ethnic cleansing operation was going on in Kosovo well before NATO military intervention.

The general said he last saw Milosevic face to face in January 1999, when the Serbian leader refused to buckle to NATO demands to pull his troops and police out of the province.

"My last words to him were: Mr. President, our relationship will never be the same."