Former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, known as the "Butcher of the Balkans," was found dead in his cell room bed Saturday, the UN tribunal judging him for war crimes and genocide said.
Milosevic never showed any regret for his actions in office
"Today, Saturday, March 11, Slobodan Milosevic was found lifeless on his bed in his cell at the United Nations detention unit in Scheveningen," said a statement by the court in the Hague.
"The guard immediately alerted the detention unit officer in command and the medical officer. The latter confirmed that Slobodan Milosevic was dead," the court said in a statement.
The court launched an inquiry into the death.
A full autopsy and a toxicological report have been ordered, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said.
Milosevic's family were informed of his death, it added. But Russia's Interfax news agency quoted the brother of Milosevic -- Borislav Milosevic -- as saying the tribual in the Hague "carries full responsibility" for the death.
Milosevic, 64, had been on trial before the UN court since February 2002 on more than 60 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1990s Balkan wars. He was facing separate genocide charges related to the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.
Milosevic showed only contempt for the UN war crimes tribunal
Milosevic, who defended himself, never recognized the court's legitimacy and refused to even to make written submissions.
Lead to reconciliation?
Europe reacted with hope that his death might lead to reconciliation in the region.
"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.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, also at the EU talks, said Milosevic's death made no change politically to the history of the region and in particular for Belgrade.
Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic
"That is a pity he didn't face the justice in Belgrade," Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic (photo) told reporters at the talks. Milosevic "ordered a few times assassination attempts against my life," he added.
Milosevic defied international sanctions and NATO bombs over nearly a decade of strife in the former Yugoslavia and was unmoved by the accusations against him.
He stoked conflicts that left more than 200,000 people dead, up to three million homeless and the Yugoslav economy in ruins.
But the burly firebrand made no apologies for his actions in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, where his drive for a Greater Serbia "cleansed" of Croats and Muslims sparked a rash of grisly massacres and finally a showdown with the West.
"I'm proud for everything I did in defending my country and my people," he told US television network Fox News in a phone interview in 2001 from his jail outside the Hague while he was awaiting trial.
A torn poster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on a wall downtown Belgrade
"All my decisions are legitimate and legal, based on the constitution of Yugoslavia and based on the rights to self-defense."
Milosevic was the first former head of state to appear before an international criminal court and faced life in jail if convicted. But he portrayed himself as a besieged statesman who struggled to keep the crumbling Yugoslav federation intact against separatists and "terrorists."
The wily Serb matched bluff and cockiness with what one commentator called "a Machiavellian flare for shedding identities which are of no more use to him."
Born the son of an Orthodox priest, he started his career as a faceless Communist minion, later fashioned himself into a successful businessman and technocrat, and bullied his way into political prominence as a ruthless champion of the Serbian cause.
"Man of the past"
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Saturday that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was a "man of the past," but whose legacy still clouds the Balkans.
"The consequences are still with us today. That was clear today in the talks between EU foreign ministers and representatives of the western Balkans," he said after talks with counterparts from five Balkan states hoping for EU entry.
"This death should not prevent us from this. On the contrary, it should revitalize our efforts to ensure peace and stability in the Balkans."
"Milosevic is and was a man of the past," he added.