The charges arose from NATO's bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999, which followed unsuccessful international efforts in France to get the Yugoslav government to halt the repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and an incident at a Kosovo village where Yugoslav security forces were accused of staging a massacre.
The district court passed the sentences Sept. 21 in a move seen by the opposition at the time as a farce deliberately timed to come three days before the Yugoslav presidential and parliamentary elections for maximum impact on undecided voters.
The 14 leaders convicted also included then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen, French President Jacque Chirac and Premier Lionel Jospin, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and foreign and defense ministers. Both former and present NATO secretary-generals, Javier Solana and George Robertson, and the former NATO supreme commander in Europe, Gen. Wesley Clark, were also among the convicted.
Lawyers who were officially appointed to defend the Western leaders at the trial were reported Tuesday to have said they believed that the case had been shelved after the electoral victory and the popular uprising against the Milosevic regime by republican forces in October and the subsequent political changes in Serbia.
Lawyer Milan Kamperelic, who defended Chancellor Schroeder, said he was surprised by the court's action because he expected the new authorities to pardon the leaders.
Another lawyer, Slavisa Mrdakovic, said, "This formally opens the possibility of any of the convicted leaders being arrested as soon as they step on Yugoslav soil."
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook have been on visits to Belgrade since the Democratic Opposition of Serbia took over power from the old regime without being taken into custody. Solana, now a top European Union foreign affairs official, also had no trouble when in Belgrade a few months ago.
Mrdakovic quoted the French ambassador in Belgrade as saying he was stunned that the process had been continued, and confirmed that the French government had been informed of the latest development. Last September, Paris described the trial as legally unfounded, the ambassador told the lawyer.
Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic refused to comment on the court's action, Belgrade radio B92 reported.
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