Accessibility links

Breaking News

Claims Of Poisoning Raise Stakes Of Milosevic Autopsy

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (file photo) (epa) PRAGUE, March 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- An autopsy has been ordered on former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, the so-called "butcher of the Balkans" being tried for war crimes, after he was found dead today in his prison cell. He was 64.

Dutch television reports that forensic experts will examine the body at the Dutch Forensic Institute in The Hague on March 12. A Serb doctor despatched by the Serbian government will reportedly attend the autopsy.

The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague says that there are no indications that Milosevic committed suicide and believes that he died of natural causes. Milosevic suffered chronic heart ailments and high blood pressure.

However, Milosevic's lawyer, Zdenko Tomanovic, said that his client had feared that he might be poisoned, comments that will fuel speculation in Serbia and Montenegro about the death of the country's former president. The deputy head of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, Milorad Vucelic, has already blamed the tribunal for Milosevic's death, saying its decision to reject his request for treatment in Russia had killed him.

The Milosevic family has said it does not trust the UN tribunal to conduct the autopsy impartially.

Chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said she regretted Milosevic's death because she believed she would have won his conviction.

"I regret deeply what happened, first of all, because after more than three years of trials, we are reaching the end of the trials by the beginning of this summer, and I think that it is regrettable for all witnesses, for all survivors, for all victims, [who] are expecting justice, but we must expect now the result of the autopsy to see what is the cause of death," Del Ponte said.

Milosevic had been on trial since February 2002, defending himself against 66 counts of crimes, including genocide, in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. He was the first sitting head of state ever to be indicted for such crimes.

Supporters in Milosevic's homeland declared his death a "huge loss," while citizens of Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo said his death brought some justice to his victims.

The European Union, which has been urging Serbia and Montenegro to do more to capture the fugitive wartime leaders of the Bosnian Serbs Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, said that Milosevic's death does not relieve Serbia of its responsibility to continue to hand over war crimes suspects.

The U.S. administration called Milosevic "the principal figure responsible for the violent dismemberment of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, including the outbreak of two horrific wars in Bosnia and Kosovo," and said that it continues to support the work of the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

(compiled from news agencies)

Milosevic On Trial

Milosevic On Trial

For an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, click here.

Of related interest:

RFE/RL Special: The Collapse Of Tito's Yugoslavia

RFE/RL Special: Yugoslavia's Democratic Revolution

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.