Andrew Osborn








Ashdown speaks at Milosevic trial

The Guardian, 15th March 2002 13:44

Andrew Osborn in the Hague

Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader and Balkans specialist, became the first western politician to give evidence in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic yesterday when he gave a harrowing first-hand account of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

Lord Ashdown, who made two fact-finding visits to the region in 1998, described how he watched from neighbouring Albania as the Yugoslav army and militia launched unprovoked and devastating attacks on unarmed Kosovan Albanian civilians.

As Mr Milosevic listened intently, Lord Ashdown detailed how the full might of the Yugoslav army had been mobilised to drive the ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo.

"I was deeply shocked by what I saw," he told the court. "What we were presented with was an entire amphitheatre of hills in which every village was ablaze, and we saw and heard the reports of shell fire and explosions."

Tanks, mortars and even fighter aircraft were used to turn much of Kosovo into a virtual wasteland, he added, and civilians were repeatedly attacked, even though they were not in a position to retaliate or to return fire.

"Small units were moving around in armoured personnel carriers and they were bombarding and subjecting to mortar fire houses and villages," he said.

"I neither heard nor saw any return of fire. You would expect to see puffs of smoke, for example. But I saw they were engaging indiscriminately the houses in this area in a way I could not relate to militarily and found very shocking."

Lord Ashdown used maps to show the judges where he believed the atrocities took place, and drew on his experience as a former marine to describe the military hardware the Yugoslav army used.

He spoke of hamlets in Kosovo emptied of their population, every house either burnt to the ground or roofless, and told the court how on one occasion he came across a rubbish tip from which rotting coffins protruded.

He also repeated allegations that the late Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, drew him a map in 1995 on the back of a menu to prove that he and Mr Milosevic had struck a deal to carve up Bosnia between them.

This part of the trial is dedicated to establishing Mr Milosevic's responsibility for the atrocities in Kosovo, however, and today Lord Ashdown is expected to be cross-examined.