Guardian, October 12, 2004
Milosevic: 'no link to genocide found'
Fresh controversy has hit the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic with a claim from a senior intelligence analyst that the Yugoslav leader is innocent of genocide.
Dr Cees Wiebes, a professor at Amsterdam University, now says there is no evidence linking Milosevic to the worst atrocity of the Bosnian war, the massacre of 7,000 Muslims at the town of Srebrenica.
Srebrenica, which was overrun by Serb forces in July 1995, forms the basis of the genocide charge against Milosevic, but Wiebes, a member of a Dutch government inquiry into the atrocity, said there is nothing to link Milosevic to the crime.
'In our report, which is about 7,000 pages long, we come to the conclusion that Milosevic had no foreknowledge of the subsequent massacres,' he says in a radio programme, The Real Slobodan Milosevic, to be broadcast by BBC Five Live tonight. 'What we did find, however, was evidence to the contrary. Milosevic was very upset when he learnt about the massacres.'
The prospect of the former Balkan strongman being cleared of the most serious charge he faces is a fresh blow to an already troubled case, which begins hearing defence evidence this week after several months of delays.
Any failure to prove genocide will cast a shadow not only over this case but over the whole practicality of holding tyrants to account in war crimes trials, most obviously in the case against Saddam Hussein.
Wiebes headed a team of intelligence specialists commissioned by the Dutch government to look into the massacre because its own forces were present in the town under the UN flag.
He had access to secret files, key diplomats and hundreds of witnesses to a massacre in which Muslim men and boys as young as 12 were butchered by Bosnian Serb forces. But while clearly implicating senior Serb field commanders, including General Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian army chief still on the run, Wiebes says Milosevic played no part.
He said it was understandable that Milosevic was upset 'because in this phase of the war he was looking for a political settlement and this was not very good for him'.
Wiebes also says his team offered their evidence to the Hague tribunal chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, but were brushed off. 'What I heard from good sources in The Hague is that Miss del Ponte thinks that we're too nuanced and not seeing things in black and white,' he said.
Hague prosecutors insist this is not so, saying that the report was not relevant. Prosecution spokeswoman Florence Hartmann said: 'The purpose of the report was not to deal with criminal cases relating to Srebrenica, and was commissioned... for other purposes.'
Wiebes is the first senior figure to say publicly what many Hague sources have been saying privately for some time - that there is simply no evidence to back the genocide charge.
Prosecutors have spent months trying to prove otherwise, but have drawn a series of blanks, despite the appearance of high-profile witnesses. These have included former Nato commander Wesley Clark, whose evidence in The Hague last December was that Milosevic told him he knew about the crime and tried to stop it.
Milosevic undoubtedly facilitated the killing by providing Bosnian Serb forces with guns, fuel and cash. But for a genocide conviction to stick, prosecutors must prove that he gave the order.