PRAGUE, March 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) – World leaders are beginning to react to the death of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who on March 11 passed away, apparently of natural causes, at the UN war crimes tribunal's detention center in The Hague.
Few are expressing sympathy for the man who was on trial for more than 60 counts, including genocide and crimes against humanity, for his role in the Balkan wars.
Among the first to react to the death of Slobodan Milosevic was French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy. He called the death an occasion to remember -- not the accused war criminal Milosevic -- but his victims.
"I would like to spare a thought for all those who suffered so much from ethnic cleansing, tens of thousands of men, women, and children, which Milosevic conceived and planned," Douste-Blazy said, speaking at a gathering of EU foreign ministers in Austria.
Other leaders likewise looked beyond Milosevic to the damage he did.
Ursula Plassnik, the foreign minister of Austria, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, said Milosevic's death changes neither the past tragedies in region nor the opportunities that the region currently has.
"Politically, for the region and, in particular, for Belgrade, this does not change or alter in any way the need to come to terms with the legacy of the past, with the legacy of which Slobodan Milosevic has been a part," Plassnik said.
The assembled EU ministers repeated that the bloc ultimately wants to see all of the states of the western Balkans join the European Union.
The Reaction In The Balkans
While many leaders in the West looked beyond Milosevic the man, reaction in the states of former Yugoslavia was decidedly more personal.
A representative of Milosevic's Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) told RFE/L that the former Yugoslav president had been murdered.
"It is clear that those who killed him confirmed his death," said Milorad Vucelic, the deputy head of the SPS. "That is not an exaggeration on my part. As you know, based on medical evidence, he had asked to go for medical treatment in Russia. The Hague tribunal refused his request and killed Slobodan Milosevic."
The tribunal in January rejected a request by Milosevic to go to Russia for medical treatment.
Chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte said at the time that Milosevic was getting perfectly adequate care from doctors in The Hague.
Vucelic's charges are at odds with most reports of the death of Milosevic. Officials at the tribunal say that he appears to have died of natural causes. There had been speculation that he had committed suicide.
The former Yugoslav leader had long suffered from health problems, and his heart condition and high blood pressure repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.
Alexandra Milanov, a spokeswoman for the tribunal, told RFE/RL that Milosevic's body was found in his cell at nine o'clock this morning and that an internal inquiry has been ordered.
Dutch police are conducting an autopsy to ascertain the exact cause of death, but have yet to say when they will announce their conclusions.
Many others in the Balkans said that they regret Milosevic's death because it means his trial, which began on February 12, 2002, ends before a verdict could be reached.
The office of Croatian President Stjepan Mesic issued a statement saying "it is a pity that Milosevic did not live through the trial and get his deserved sentence."
Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said "he ordered a few times assassination attempts against my life. What can I say? I can say it is a pity he didn't face justice in Belgrade."
Bosnian Muslim leader Sulejman Tihic said he wished Milosevic had lived long enough to face punishment.
"Because of the victims, truth and justice, it would have been better if he lived to the end of the trial," said Tihic, the representative of the Bosnian Muslims in the country's three-member presidency.
Milosevic And The Court
In the trial, the 64-year-old Milosevic defended himself and refused to cooperate with court-appointed lawyers.
He pleaded not guilty to all counts, saying that he was not responsible for ordering killings and rapes.
The prosecution feared that, if allowed to receive treatment in Russia, Milosevic would seek to avoid judgment by arguing he was too unwell to travel back to The Hague for the remainder of his trial. The court agreed to keep him in The Hague, despite a promise by Russia to return him.
Milosevic's brother lives in Russia. Prosecutors suspect both his wife and son of involvement in crimes committed during the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Croatia's President Comments
Slobodan Milosevic (left) shakes hands with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman after the signing of the Dayton peace accord in Paris on 21 November 1995 (epa)
NO COMPROMISES: On September 20, 2004, Croatian President STIPE MESIC gave an extensive interview to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in which he discussed the history of the collapse of Yugoslavia, as well as the 1990s Balkans conflicts and Slobodan Milosevic's role in them (the complete interview in Croatian).
During this period, Mesic enjoyed a stormy relationship with Franjo Tudjman, who was Croatia's president at the time. Mesic was one of several prominent moderate Croats who did not hide his disapproval of the 1993-94 Croatian-Muslim conflict in Bosnia. Many observers held Tudjman responsible for that conflict, since he seemed bent on partitioning Bosnia with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and establishing a greater Croatia.
Asked whether he, as the last president of the second or communist-era Yugoslavia, feels some responsibility for the demise of that state, Mesic told RFE/RL that it was clear to him when he arrived in Belgrade in 1991 to try to take up the rotating chair of the eight-member Yugoslav presidency that federal Yugoslav institutions had ceased to function. The solution, he felt, was to reach a new political agreement. The presidency consisted of representatives of the six republics -- Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia -- plus the Serbian autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, which enjoyed a legal status close to that of the republics under the 1974 constitution.
But, Mesic argued, Milosevic did not want such a compromise. Instead, Milosevic sought to break up Yugoslavia and create a greater Serbia. In the course of carrying out his plan, Mesic charged, Milosevic indulged in genocide and other war crimes, and for that he was brought before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.
Milosevic never gave Mesic the opportunity to lead the country to a compromise solution, because the Serbian leader and his three allies on the presidency prevented the Croat from taking over the rotating chair.
Mesic was supported by the representatives of Slovenia, Bosnia, and Macedonia, all of which were to declare their independence in the following months when it became clear that Milosevic was interested in controlling the federation and would destroy it if he could not dominate it. (Patrick Moore)
THE COMPLETE PICTURE: An archive of RFE/RL's coverage of the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
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