Saturday, March 11, 2006

Milosevic Found Dead

By Molly Moore, Fred Barbash and R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 11, 2006; 10:06 AM

PARIS, March 11 -- Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader who presided over the Balkan wars of the 1990s, was found dead Saturday in his cell at a United Nations prison near The Hague where he was on trial for war crimes, among them genocide in the form of "ethnic cleansing."

The 65-year-old Milosevic "was found lifeless on his bed in his cell," according to a statement issued by war crimes tribunal.

Officials said Milosevic, who had been in poor health and whose trial has been interrupted often because of his chronic heart condition, appeared to have died of natural causes.

He was charged by a U.N. war crimes tribunal in May, 1999 with crimes against humanity, specifically, directing, encouraging and supporting a campaign of terror, violence and murder against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo in 1999. Additional charges followed, including genocide in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo stemming from a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Serbs during the collapse of the Yugoslav federation.

The trial was recessed last week to await his next defense witness.

Milosevic, 64, was the driving force behind a decade of ethnic wars in the Balkans. He was a provocateur and firebrand of Serbian nationalism.

But he was a convert to that cause, having begun his political career as a Communist party apparatchik in the era of Yugoslavia's legendary leader Marshal Tito, who died in 1980.

While in power, Milosevic represented a dwindling group of authoritarian leaders who clung to office at the price of isolating their countries from the outside world.

He stepped down after 13 years in power following a popular revolt in October, 2000, but remained free until April, 2001. Under mounting foreign pressure, he was arrested by the successor government in Serbia and charged with corruption and abuse of power.

In the dark of night on June 29, 2001, in an extradition engineered by Serbian leaders, Milosevic was flown out of the country to the Netherlands and became the first head of state to face charges before a court created to track down and try war criminals from Europe's worst bloodletting since World War II.

There was mourning of a different sort across Europe Saturday, not over his death but over the lost opportunity of a full trial.

"What can I say," commented Vuk Draskovic, foreign minister of Serbia-Montenegro.

"Milosevic organized many many assassinations of people of my party, of people of my family. He ordered a few times assassination attempts against my life," he told wire services. "I can say it's a pity he didn't face justice in Belgrade."

"It's a pity that Milosevic did not live through the trial and get his deserved sentence," said a statement issued by the office of Croatian President Stjepan Mesic. "It's pity that Milosevic did not live through the trial and get his deserved sentence."

Former Balkans envoy David Owen said, "It's sad that justice in a way has been cheated. He was the first head of state to be given a trial, he's been given a very fair trial, it's taken an extraordinarily long time."

"I think people everywhere, but particularly in the former Yugoslavia and in Bosnia were wanting this verdict," Owen told wire services. "They now will feel cheated and it's a tragedy in a way that justice has not been able to give the verdict which we was important to hear."

Ivica Dacic, of Milosevic's Socialist Party, expressed a different view: "It's a big loss for Serbia and for the Socialist party. He was being systematically killed in the Hague and finally he died."

Fred Barbash and R. Jeffrey Smith reported from Washington.

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