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Milosevic Denies War Crimes Cover-Up

July 23, 2002

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Denying a cover-up of war crimes, Slobodan Milosevic told the U.N. tribunal Tuesday that ethnic Albanians whose bodies were packed into a freezer truck and dumped into the Danube River were victims of human traffickers, not Serb army troops.

``We are talking here about an organized criminal group. People had drowned when the lorry toppled and ended up in the river,″ the former Yugoslav president said during his cross-examination of a Serb police captain.

Dragan Karleusa testified about the investigation last year into the discovery of 86 Kosovo Albanians who were driven into the Danube three years ago. The corpses were later retrieved, and police suspect they were reburied at a police training base near Belgrade, in what prosecutors contend was an attempt to conceal evidence of war crimes.

Bosko Radojkovic, a policeman who handled the freezer truck when it surfaced in the Danube River near the Romanian border in April 1999, testified Tuesday that his superiors ordered the corpses removed from the truck and that the vehicle be destroyed.

Radojkovic said police technicians extracted 86 corpses who ``suffered different injuries from sharp and blunt objects.″ Police and local workers loaded the bodies onto a flatbed truck, which was driven in the direction of central Serbia, he said.

Karleusa suggested the evidence was not yet conclusive that the bodies exhumed from the police training base were those removed from the truck. ``We are still trying to determine who they are, who killed them and where. (The) bodies are not identified yet,″ he said.

Milosevic quoted several state security reports and public prosecutor’s notes about widespread human smuggling in the region in eastern Serbia where the truck was discovered in 1999.

``I am aware of human smuggling in the region, but not in this particular case,″ Karleusa said.

Milosevic is representing himself as defense counsel against 66 counts of war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Rather than merely question witnesses, he often makes statements asserting his innocence.

Milosevic also denied Karleusa’s assertion in his testimony Monday that in March 1999 Milosevic and his aides had discussed clearing the battlefields in Kosovo to remove traces of atrocities.

``Do you really believe that the head of state would order anyone to cover up war crimes?″ he asked the witness.

At least three mass graves have been found in Serbia since Milosevic’s ouster in October 2000, all hundreds of miles from Kosovo.

Milosevic claimed that the ``refrigerator-truck case was invented to create a climate″ for his extradition to the U.N. court 13 months ago.

In his earlier testimony, Karleusa said orders for operation ``Depth 2″ to relocate the bodies came from former Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic, police Gen. Vlastimir Djordjevic and Gen. Rade Markovic, the chief of the state security service.

Markovic, who is serving a one-year prison sentence in Belgrade for destroying secret police files, was brought to The Hague last Friday and will appear this week as a prosecution witness.

In his testimony, Radojkovic said he and his fellow police removed the bodies at night, because of the proximity to the Romanian border.

``During the first night we extracted 30 bodies, and during the second night another 53 bodies and body parts sufficient to complete three more corpses,″ Radojkovic said. Among the victims were two children, and some women were dressed in garments ``traditional to Muslims or Albanians,″ he said.

After the bodies were removed, Radojkovic said he and another policeman tried in vain to set the truck on fire. They blew up the charred remains with explosives.

``As for my feelings about that, I have none. That was the way things had to be done. The war was going on,″ Radojkovic said.

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