- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2006

THE HAGUE — Slobodan Milosevic, branded “the Butcher of the Balkans” for conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s, was found dead in his cell yesterday, only months before a verdict was due in his war-crimes trial.

“Milosevic was found lifeless on his bed in his cell,” said the U.N. war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Some world figures and relatives of Balkan war victims expressed disappointment the death had robbed them of justice.

A tribunal spokeswoman said there was no indication the 64-year-old former Yugoslav president, who suffered from a heart condition and high blood pressure, had committed suicide.

Mr. Milosevic’s attorney, Zdenko Tomanovic, told reporters his client had feared he was being poisoned, but the tribunal rejected a request for the autopsy to take place in Russia, saying a pathologist from Serbia would attend the procedure today.

Mr. Milosevic rose to the top of Yugoslav politics in the power vacuum left by the 1980 death of Yugoslavia’s post-World War II communist dictator, Marshal Josip Broz Tito.

He became president of Serbia in 1989, and ruled with an iron grip until his overthrow in 2000.

Mr. Milosevic was charged with 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in indictments covering conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo as Yugoslavia imploded.

He declined to enter a plea in Europe’s most significant war-crimes trial since top Nazis were tried after World War II.

The charges included involvement in the siege of Sarajevo during the 1992-95 Bosnia war and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in the U.N. “safe area” of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst single atrocity since World War II.

“The death of Slobodan Milosevic, a few weeks before the completion of his trial, will prevent justice to be done in his case,” said the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte.

But she said others must be punished for the crimes he was accused of and said six war-crimes suspects still at large — including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic — must be arrested.

European Union foreign ministers reminded Serbia yesterday it must arrest the fugitives or jeopardize its bid to join the bloc.

There was little sign of grief yesterday in Serbia, now in talks on the first steps toward EU membership.

Mr. Milosevic’s death occurred at a difficult time for Serbia, with Kosovo poised to win independence and Montenegro also set to vote on a split from Belgrade in a referendum in May.

Only a single wreath and two candles were placed at Mr. Milosevic’s Socialist Party headquarters and a handful of mourners displayed posters.

Mr. Milosevic’s poor health had repeatedly interrupted his trial. Last month, the tribunal rejected his bid to go to Russia for medical treatment, noting the trial was almost over.

Russia and Yugoslavia were close allies, and Moscow opposed NATO’s bombing campaign to stop Serbian attacks on Kosovo Albanians that led to his overthrow in 2000.

Mr. Milosevic had branded his trial a “distortion of history” and blamed the West for fueling Yugoslavia’s collapse.

His was the second death at the detention center within a week after former rebel Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic committed suicide. A former ally of Mr. Milosevic already convicted for war crimes, Babic was a key witness against the former Yugoslav leader, accusing him of bringing shame on Serbs.

Mr. Milosevic’s wife, Mirjana, his high-school sweetheart often described as the driving force behind his career, blamed the tribunal for his death. “The tribunal has killed my husband,” she told CNN.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said: “It is unfortunate and in many aspects unsatisfactory, given the countless victims of the Balkan wars, that justice now will not be able to run its course.”

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