THE HAGUE - Slobodan Milosevic, opening the second week of his war crimes trial Monday, accused the West of inciting ethnic hatreds to deliberately break up Yugoslavia.
Entering the third day of his defense statement, the former Yugoslav president resumed his attack on the Western NATO countries, charging that they sought domination in eastern Europe through the disintegration of multiethnic countries, like the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.
It was the third and final day of Milosevic's opening defense statement, a tirade against outside meddling in which he accused the West of most of the crimes for which he was sitting in the dock.
After a two-day recital of what he called NATO war crimes focusing on the 78-day bombing of Kosovo, Milosevic took his assault on the West to the very origin of the nationalist upheaval in Yugoslavia.
The West wanted to assert its economic, political, social and cultural domination over Yugoslavia, and could only do so by playing on the tensions among its national and ethnic groups, he said.
"They opted for the method of national conflict," he said. In the former Yugoslavia, "nationalism was incited, along with national hatred and national conflicts, flames were fanned to turn into a full-fledged war."
Milosevic, 60, has been charged with a total of 66 counts of war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, including the most serious crime, genocide, in Bosnia. He could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted on any charge.
Later Monday, the court was to hear the first of the prosecution witnesses that will include victims of alleged torture and repression by Serb forces and former insiders in Milosevic's regime.
A court official said the first testimony would be from political and military authorities who would set out an overview of the government system in the former Yugoslavia during the Kosovo conflict, the first of the three-part trial.
In all three indictments, the prosecution must prove Milosevic either ordered atrocities against civilians or knew about war crimes committed by his subordinates and failed to prevent them or punish the perpetrators.
Observers say the principle of "command responsibility" will be easiest to prove in Kosovo, where Milosevic had direct control as president of the Yugoslav province. He has said all his actions in Kosovo were aimed at curbing "terrorism" by ethnic Albanian rebels.
Bosnia and Croatia had seceded when the massacres and a systematic campaign of "ethnic cleansing" were allegedly conducting by ethnic Serbs.
On Monday, Milosevic again denied knowing about the massacre in the U.N.-protected zone of Srebrenica on Bosnia, when more than 7,000 Muslims were rounded up and shot under the orders of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, now the tribunal's two most wanted fugitives. All three have been indicted for genocide at Srebrenica.
Milosevic said he learned about the killings from U.N. special envoy Carl Bildt. "I called Karadzic and he swore he knew nothing about it," he said.
Rather than persecute the minorities during the wars, Milosevic said he had protected them and rescued them from certain death.
The prosecution said it will call 90 witnesses for the Kosovo trial, which is expected to last four months before the court takes up the indictments for Croatia and Bosnia. Milosevic has the right to cross-examine.
Several of them will be protected witnesses. In previous cases, their voices were electronically distorted and their faces were blocked from view from the public gallery. Some requested anonymity for fear of reprisal for themselves or their families.