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Milosevic Found Dead in Prison

A supporter of Slobodan Milosevic kisses a poster of the ousted Yugoslav leader at a support-group headquarters in Belgrade. Milosevic faced charges before a U.N. tribunal for atrocities committed in the Balkan wars during the 1990s.
A supporter of Slobodan Milosevic kisses a poster of the ousted Yugoslav leader at a support-group headquarters in Belgrade. Milosevic faced charges before a U.N. tribunal for atrocities committed in the Balkan wars during the 1990s. (By Marko Drobnjakovic -- Associated Press)

"The death of Slobodan Milosevic a few weeks before the completion of his trial will prevent justice to be done in his case," Carla Del Ponte, the chief war crime prosecutor, said in a statement issued by her office Saturday. "However, the crimes for which he was accused, including genocide, cannot be left unpunished. There are other senior leaders accused of these crimes, six of them still at large."

The war crimes tribunal has indicted 161 people over the past 11 years. Of the six indictees at large, the most prominent include former Bosnia Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, charged with genocide for their roles in the massacre of an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995 in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

"This is exactly what the judges have feared all along," said Edgar Chen, legal liaison to the war crimes tribunal for the Washington-based watchdog group, Coalition for International Justice. "That the trial wouldn't be complete and there would be no verdict. . . . They knew the fragile state of his health."

Chen, who has monitored long stretches of the trial from behind the bulletproof glass that separates the courtroom from the public, said the trial has been drawn out partially because of the judges' sensitivity to Milosevic's health. Courtroom sessions have been conducted only three days a week to allow Milosevic sufficient time to rest and prepare his presentations. Milosevic, who has a law degree, has been acting as his own attorney.

During heated courtroom debate, Milosevic's high blood pressure often has been evident in the reddened color of his face, intensified by his snowy white hair. Chen said in recent weeks Milosevic's voice had become "more scratchy and hoarse" than usual.

When the judges on Feb. 24 rejected Milosevic's plea for medical treatment in Moscow, the former Yugoslav leader replied, "I consider this a highly unjust decision," Chen said his notes from that session show. He added that presiding Judge Patrick Robinson "cut him off and said, 'I am not going to consider this.' "

Milosevic's death was reported less than a week after one of his former Croation Serb rebel leaders, Milan Babic, committed suicide in his cell at the same tribunal detention center where Milosevic was housed. Babic, who suffocated himself using a plastic bag and a belt, had testified against Milosevic and was scheduled to appear in the trial of another Croation Serb. He was serving a 13-year sentence.

"In The Hague, Serbs are not treated like human beings," said Zoran Andjelkovic, a leader of Serbia's Socialist Party, which Milosevic once headed. "What's happening in that court now that two Serbs have died consecutively in prison?"

Milosevic "has a history of suicide in his family -- both his parents -- but as far as he was concerned, his attitude to me was quite the opposite from that," Steven Kay, a British attorney appointed by the tribunal to assist Milosevic, told BBC television. "He was determined to keep fighting his case."

Milosevic's unexpected death provoked shock but no mass outpourings of grief in Belgrade, the capital of the former Yugoslavia from where he served as president of Serbia until he was overthrown by a popular uprising in 2001. State-run television broadcast classical music between news updates and other stations ran films about the Balkan wars and Milosevic's life.

The government of Serbia limited its statements to offering condolences to the Milosevic family and his Socialist Party. But Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic charged that Milosevic's death proved that war crimes detainees at The Hague did not receive adequate medical care. "Milosevic's death has shaken me as a person," Stojkovic said.

On Belgrade's streets, smatterings of sympathy alternated with large doses of indifference.


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