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Milosevic's Judges also on Trial

Barring ill health, the trial of Slobodan Milosevic resumes at The Hague Wednesday. Get ready for more blustery grandstanding as the former strongman, who started four Balkan wars for Serbian dominance, begins the defense phase in proceedings that already have dragged on for more than two years.

Acting as his own lawyer, Milosevic plans to call more than 1,600 witnesses, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. He wants to focus attention on what NATO bombing did to Serbs, not the 66 counts he faces relating to war crimes.

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But the world should also be watching the judges. This special tribunal, set up by the United Nations in 1993 to try war crimes in ex-Yugoslavia, faces a critical test. The trial has been stalled due to the former Yugoslav president's ill health. Last week, Milosevic was told that if he is too ill to conduct his own defense, the court will appoint counsel for him. That would probably end his celebrity-politician strategy, since an imposed lawyer would likely not view a Blair or Clinton as germane to the defense.

Faced with that prospect, Milosevic may try to convince the judges he is too ill to stand trial at all. While records and examinations indicate he has serious health problems, he does not appear incapacitated. The judges should not be duped, and they should not hesitate to appoint a defense lawyer if one is needed.


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