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Milosevic Death Precedes War Crimes Verdict

The Communist leader, whose embrace of Serbian nationalism set off almost a decade of Balkan warfare, was found dead early Saturday in his cell at the United Nations detention center in The Hague, where he had been since 2001.

The autopsy report disclosed that Milosevic died of a heart attack. It also revealed that he had been taking medicine not prescribed by his physicians, including an antibiotic known to diminish the effect of the medicines he had been taking for heart and blood-pressure problems.

Milosevic’s death came as his trial for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Balkans in the 1990s neared a close. A verdict had been expected later this year.

His abrupt death raised a whole new set of issues for the United States and European Union, which had hoped that the conclusion of his trail would help expedite resolutions of other problems that are vestiges of Milosevic’s rule in the 1990s.

According to the chief U.N. prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, “The death of Slobodan Milosevic deprived victims of justice and made it more urgent to catch and extradite other Balkan leaders implicated in atrocities.”

Milosevic had 50 hours of hearings left before the court released a verdict. The complex indictment covered the events of three wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The wars incurred almost a decade of bloodshed and vengeance that killed more than 200,000 people. His crimes included the charges of genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rapes.

Although his 66-count indictment dealt with the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, Milosevic devoted almost all of the time allotted for his defense to Kosovo, a Serbian province. He dismissed events in Bosnia and hardly touched on those in Croatia, because, he said, those were separate countries not under his command or control.

Prosecutors said he had instigated many crimes in Bosnia and Croatia through proxy armies which he supplied and financed.

He was the first former head of state to answer charges of such crimes and his was the longest war crimes trial of modern times, delayed by Milosevic’s frequent bouts of illness related to high blood pressure and a bad heart.

The Serbian government now faces a dilemma over whether to allow the funeral to be held in his homeland, and if so what honor should be accorded. Although regarded as a ruthless dictator overseas, Milosevic retained support among members of his Socialist Party, which has a pivotal position in the country’s coalition government.

The country’s Supreme Defense Council has ruled out providing a military escort to any procession, but Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has yet to decide on whether to allow a private ceremony. There is further argument over Milosevic’s final resting place. The Socialists are seeking to have their mentor buried at Belgrade cemetery’s Alley of Heroes.

Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said Monday that he was “deeply shamed” by reactions in Serbia from Milosevic supporters following his death. “They are promoting a serial murderer — a man who sowed death, misery and hate — as a national hero,” he said.

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