Milosevic's defense witnesses, Colonel Vukovic and General Djosan, give the same definition of the term "cleansing" and explanation why this term is used so often in their Kosovo 1999 war logbooks

Slobodan Milosevic in the courtroomSlobodan Milosevic in the courtroom

Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice called Colonel Vlatko Vukovic an "exceptionally biased witness" and a "liar". The witness retorted that the prosecutor "got the Serbian grammar, which is complicated as hell, all wrong".

The term "cleansing" gave rise to this debate. Colonel Vukovic defined it today as "separating something good from something bad". Interestingly enough, General Milos Djosan, Vukovic's erstwhile superior, offered the same definition yesterday. There are two possible ways of explaining that. The first is that a definition of the term "cleansing" had been agreed at a higher level in the military, for instance in the VJ General Staff, in order for all officers to interpret the term in the same way. The second explanation is that Djosan and Vukovic agreed, during the break in the Slobodan Milosevic's trial, how to explain to the judges and the prosecutor the fact that the term "cleansing" was mentioned so often in their war logbooks. This agreement resulted in the definition of "separating the good from the bad".

At the beginning of the cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Colonel Vukovic to describe "in his own words" what he and the units under his command had been doing between 25 March and 1 April 1999 in the Kosovo villages of Bela Crkva, Celine and Velika Krusa. The colonel denied that any crimes had been committed in those villages in that period. The crimes are alleged in the indictment against Slobodan Milosevic: destruction and burning of houses, plunder, murder and expulsion of the population. His units and the police forces carried out an "anti-terrorist operation", as the witness described. It involved "sealing off, searching for and routing the Siptar terrorist forces". In this description, Vukovic never once used the term "cleansing". Although he received the orders to carry out "a vigorous search of the village of Bela Crkva", Colonel Vukovic claims his unit "only passed through the village, without stopping", since his vanguard reported that there were only police there, and no terrorists.

However, the entry for 25 March 1999 in the war logbook of Vukovic's 2nd Motorized Battalion says that on 25 March 1999, the "village of Bela Crkva was cleansed", adding that "there were no casualties". Vukovic says that his deputy in the staff wrote that. Vukovic had called in from the field to report that the "mission is accomplished and that there are no casualties". Vukovic offered the same explanation for the entry for the next day, 26 March 1999, stating that his unit "continued with cleansing" together with the police, and the entry for 27 March, noting that "cleansing along three axes" began. All those entries were made by his deputy, who actually did not know what was happening in the field because he was about 25 kilometers away from the area where the "anti-terrorist operation" was in progress.

On return from the field, Colonel Vukovic personally took over making entries in the war logbook. On 20 March 1999, he wrote in his own hand that his company, in cooperation with the Combat Group 3 and an element of the VJ 72nd Special Brigade "cleansed the village of Rugovo". Colonel Vukovic says his deputy made a mistake when he wrote the word "cleansing", prosecutor Nice reminded him and put it to him that the term actually meant "expelling the people from their land", accusing the witness of "lying to conceal that". Vukovic tried to give Nice tit for tat, but was interrupted by Judge Robinson, noting that a witness could not take the same liberties as the prosecutor.

Colonel Vukovic's cross-examination will continue tomorrow.