Six Serb politicians go on trial for war crimes in Kosovo

The six, headed by former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, 63, are charged with orchestrating the deportation of 800,000 ethnic Albanians in a 1998-99 crackdown that prompted a NATO bombing campaign to end the Serb campaign.

They have pleaded not guilty to five counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes at the U.N. Yugoslav tribunal.

Prosecutor Thomas Hannis said the six were part of Milosevic-led "joint criminal enterprise" that aimed "to manipulate or modify the ethnic balance of Kosovo to maintain Serb control."

In the first half of 1999, convoys of tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians were herded to the border on foot and in tractor-drawn wagons, Hannis said - an exodus that was documented by international television.

Kosovo had a unique place in Serb history and religion, Hannis said, and the prosecution would show "the special importance it held for Slobodan Milosevic," who rode a tide of Serb nationalism to become president of the former Yugoslavia.

The indictment of the six says Serb troops systematically shelled towns and villages, burned homes and farms, damaged and destroyed mosques, murdered civilians and sexually assaulted women.

In the village of Bela Crkva, the indictment says, Serb forces "ordered the men and older boys to strip, and then systematically robbed them of their valuables." The captives were forced to stand in a stream bed, then were gunned down. Some 65 people were left dead, said the indictment, in just one of dozens of incidents cited.

In addition to Milutinovic, also on trial are Nikola Sainovic, 57, the former prime minister of Serbia; Dragoljub Ojdanic, 65, former army chief of staff; generals Nebojsa Pavkovic, 60, and Vladimir Lazarevic, 57; and Sreten Lukic, 51, former head of the internal affairs ministry for Kosovo, the AP reports.

Milosevic was charged with the others in 1999, but his trial was held separately after Belgrade extradited him to the U.N. tribunal in 2001.