Kosta Bulatovic – former leader of the Kosovo Serb “resistance movement” – refused to answer to prosecutor's questions noting that to testify in the absence of Slobodan Milosevic, who is sick, “would bring shame on him, his family and his tribe” and the “Serb people and state”. Despite the prosecutor’s appeal to the Trial Chamber to “remain firm and protect its dignity”, the judges gave Bulatovic a chance to change his mind by tomorrow or to risk a contempt of court charge

After he refused to answer the questions put to him by prosecutor Geoffrey Nice in the absence of Slobodan Milosevic, defense witness Kosta Bulatovic was given some time to reconsider the situation he found himself in and to consult a lawyer the Registry will appoint to him. Judge Robinson warned the witness that if he does not change his position when he returns to the courtroom tomorrow, Bulatovic risks facing contempt of court charges. Furthermore, the entire testimony he gave last Thursday during Milosevic’s examination-in-chief may be stricken off the record.

The Chamber decided that Bulatovic’s cross-examination, begun last Thursday, should be completed in the absence of the accused, who remained in the Detention Unit because of health problems. After Bulatovic was brought into the courtroom this morning, he refused to answer prosecutor’s questions. He said he had come to The Hague “to testify for Mr. President Milosevic” and that he could not testify in his absence, because that “would bring on shame on him, his family and his tribe”, and for the “Serb people and state”. Bulatovic repeated the same response to the questions put to him several times by Judge Bonomy, who insisted on getting Bulatovic to explain the “rational basis” for his refusal to testify in the absence of the accused.

The judges tried very hard to explain to the witness that the accused would not be prejudiced in any way by not attending the cross-examination, as he would get the transcripts and the video-tape of the hearing. He would also be given the opportunity to recall Bulatovic to ask additional questions, if he deemed it necessary.

Noting that this was “a clear-cut case of open contempt of court” – which may be punished by up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 Euro – prosecutor Geoffrey Nice appealed to the Chamber to “remain firm and protect its dignity” and “not allow the witnesses to run the proceedings,” as they tried to do last year. The judges, however, decided to give Bulatovic one more chance, until tomorrow morning. They were not deterred by the witness's remark that they “should not put that off until tomorrow, because that was embarrassing to them too.” “As an honorable man, I don’t want that,” he said.

As they gave Bulatovic – one of the leaders of the Kosovo Serb “resistance movement” in the late eighties – the chance to change his mind, the judges at the same time indicated that they would be ready to continue the trial in the absence of the accused, in accordance with the decision made last year by the Appeals Chamber. Assigned counsel Steven Kay was ordered today to proof the next defense witness Dragan Jasovic, so that he can be ready to testify tomorrow if Slobodan Milosevic does not return to the courtroom.