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Russian leaders including former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov on Tuesday denounced the war crimes trial of ex-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic during the presentation of a new book with witness testimony in support of the Belgrade's former strongman.
Entitled "Witnesses for the Defense Speak", the 500-page book brings together Milosevic's opening defense argument along with the transcripts of depositions by several Russian officials before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the United Nations-backed court that is prosecuting suspected war crimes during the 1990s Balkan conflicts.
The Hague-based tribunal is "illegal", said Nikolai Ryjkov, an ex-lawmaker who was responsible for the Russian parliamentary commission on Yugoslavia from 1999 to 2003.
He noted that Russia does not recognize the court, "but we have been obliged to give testimony while Milosevic is in the dock," he said.
"Of the 63 charges (against Milosevic), all of them concern internal political matters," said Ryjkov, describing the Balkans conflict as a civil war.
Primakov, also a former foreign minister, argued that Milosevic should not have been hauled before the war crimes court.
"Milosevic's errors and faults were not enough to be indicted. He has not committed crimes against humanity," said Primakov, who described Milosevic as a patriot who was defending his country.
Also at the press conference in Moscow were several defense witnesses, including a former general who headed the Russian army and a journalist as well as the brother of Serbia's ex-leader, Borislav Milosevic.
The ex-general, Leonid Ivachov, addressed the issue of Kosovo, saying "the NATO generals know very well that they attacked and afterwards they accused Milosevic of being responsible for the war," he said, referring to the western military alliance's bombing of Kosovo which NATO said was aimed at stopping the Serbian crackdown on majority ethnic Albanians in the province.
Milosevic's trial, which opened in February 2002, is now in the defense stage with the 64-year-old presenting his own defense. He has been accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the 1990s conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during the break up of the former Yugoslavia that caused more than 200,000 deaths.
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