According to Colonel Vlatko Vukovic, testifying as Slobodan Milosevic's defense witness, the crimes committed in 1999 in his area of responsibility in Kosovo, as alleged in the indictment, either "did not happen" or did not happen in the way the prosecution alleges, and were thus "no crimes at all"

Vlatko Vukovic, defense witness for MilosevicVlatko Vukovic, defense witness for Milosevic

The crimes in Bela Crkva, Celine, Nogavac, Velika Krusa and Mala Krusa and some other locations listed in the Kosovo indictment either "did not happen" or "were not crimes at all", as they did not happen in the way the prosecution alleges.

This is the thrust of Slobodan Milosevic's argument today, as he examined retired colonel Vlatko Vukovic. In the time relevant for the indictment, Vukovic was the commander of the 2nd Motorized Battalion of the 549th Motorized Brigade in the VJ. His units took part in the operations in late March 1999 in Bela Crkva and other locations.

According to the indictment, after the NATO air strikes began in March 1999, the "FRY and Serbian forces" surrounded and shelled those villages, then entered them, burning and looting the houses and killing and expelling civilians. As alleged in the indictment, twelve civilians were killed in the vicinity of Bela Crkva first – ten of them women and children. Then, about 70 men who had been captured were summarily executed. In Mala Krusa, it is alleged in the indictment and the prosecution witnesses testified to it, a hundred and five men were killed and set on fire in a house; several dozen people were killed in the shelling of the village of Nogavac. Those people were sleeping in their tractors and cars on their way to Albania; the village of Celine was shelled on March 25, 1999. It was then burned and systematically looted. Three days later, the inhabitants who had sought shelter in the woods nearby – were subjected to abuse and forced to go to Prizren and Albania.

According to Colonel Vukovic, none of that ever happened or if it did, it was in a way substantially different from the description in the indictment or in the testimony of Kosovo Albanians heard during the prosecution case. Vukovic claims that his unit "merely passed through Bela Crkva" in the early morning, but did not stay there, this despite their orders to "search it". When asked by the judge why the order was not implemented, the witness said there had been "no need" as his vanguard had reported "there were no terrorists there".

As for the actions in Velika Krusa and Mala Krusa, Vukovic claims this was "not an attack on the village but an engagement with the terrorists". According to Milosevic and his witness, the list of casualties in Mala Krusa, appended to the indictment, indicates that they were all "of military age". They were between 13 and 70 years old.

The witness claims that there were no clashes with the terrorists in the village of Nogavac. As for the people killed in the tractors and cars, they were "the result of deliberate bombardment by NATO in order to intimidate the Albanians and encourage them to flee, thus causing a humanitarian catastrophe and justifying the aggression".

As for the events in the village of Celine, Vukovic says he personally took part in combat against the "fortified terrorists" and that the fighting lasted less than hour before the terrorists retreated. He does not remember whether the old mosque was really destroyed on that occasion, as alleged in the indictment. In his view, however, if it was, then it was "a legitimate target because people opened fire from it on the troops". The same went for the houses in Celine that were destroyed because fire was opened from them too. When the judges insisted on answering the question they repeated three times, Colonel Vukovic confirmed that he had personally seen the destruction of the houses in Celine.

Colonel Vukovic's testimony will continue tomorrow.