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Europe

Milosevic Autopsy to Answer Questions About Death

An autopsy on the body of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic on Sunday may explain why the "Butcher of the Balkans" died in his cell and answer his loyalists' claims that he was murdered.

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Serbs reacted to Milosevic's death with a mixture of shock, anger and suspicion

Milosevic was found dead Saturday in the detention centre of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) where he was on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for his roles in the 1990s Balkan wars that killed more than 200,000 people.

His body has been transferred to the NFI Dutch medical-legal institute in The Hague for the autopsy which will be attended by Serbian government medical experts.

The UN tribunal earlier said there were no outward signs of suicide or unnatural causes of death. But chief UN prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said suicide cannot be excluded until the autopsy results are in -- probably late Sunday or early Monday.

Milosevic's family in Moscow and political allies in Belgrade have raised suspicions about his death and said the UN court is responsible. A legal aide claimed that the former strongman feared he was being poisoned in UN custody.

Last month the judges denied a request from Milosevic, 64, who suffered from high blood pressure and heart problems, to undergo medical treatment in Moscow, saying he could be treated by his Russian doctors in The Hague.

Accusations

Milosevic's brother Borislav said the tribunal's judges thus bore "full responsibility" for his death, and Serbian newspapers lashed out Sunday at the war crimes tribunal, accusing it of "murder."

Milosevic beginnt seine Verteidigung in Den Haag

Milosevic's legal advisor claims the former president was the target of an attempted poisoning

Zdenko Tomanovic, a legal adviser of Milosevic, said the former Yugoslav president claimed to have been the target of an attempted poisoning.

The ICTY said a toxicological examination of the body would also be carried out on Sunday. An ICTY spokeswoman said there was "no sign that he committed suicide," but added: "We cannot say that he died of natural causes. We are waiting for the report."

"The tribunal has nothing to be blamed for," tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier said.

His death was announced just six days after the suicide in the same prison of his former ally, 50-year-old Croatian Serb ex-leader Milan Babic, who pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity during the 1991-95 war in Croatia.

Escaped justice

Milosevic had been on trial since February 2002 on more than 60 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He also faced genocide charges related to the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, where Serb military strategies devised to depopulate non-Serb areas became known as "ethnic cleansing."

Among his opponents and victims, his death just weeks before his mammoth trial was set to finish created dismay that he had forever escaped justice.

Carla Del Ponte zu Ratko Mladic

Chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte

"The death of Slobodan Milosevic, a few weeks before the completion of his trial, will prevent justice in his case," Del Ponte (photo) said Saturday.

"However, the crimes for which he was accused, including genocide, cannot be left unpunished," she added, referring to fugitive genocide suspects, Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, to be captured and sent to The Hague.

Serbian reaction

On the streets of Belgrade, Serbs reacted with a mixture of shock, anger and deep suspicion. Some called him a "bastard" for whom death was too kind, while others wept at the loss of national "martyr."

Serbia's media focused Sunday on the UN court's perceived culpability in his death.

"The Hague killed Milosevic," said the front pages of both Press and Glas Javnosti, against black backgrounds bearing large pictures of the former Serbian strongman.

"Murdered," said Kurir, another of the Balkan state's lurid dailies, basing its story on an interview with a Serbian doctor who had examined Milosevic in November.

Europe reacted with hope that his death might lead to reconciliation in the region, still riven by nationalist tendencies and the legacy of the Milosevic years.

"I hope very much this event, the death of Milosevic will help Serbia to look definitely to the future," said European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, in Salzburg for EU talks with Balkans policymakers.

But there were also fears that Milosevic's death could boost nationalist forces, which remain powerful in Serbia and the Serb-run part of Bosnia. His funeral, if held in Serbia, could also be a rallying point for nationalist hardliners who control the largest party in the Serbian parliament.

Milosevic's brother called Sunday for the former Yugoslav president to be buried in Belgrade, but said no decision had been taken yet. "It has not been decided. His family -- his wife and son -- are taking the decision," Borislav Milosevic told AFP in Moscow.

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