Police said they believe Milosevic ordered a truck filled with Albanian corpses be dumped into the Danube River in 1999 in order to hamper a war crimes investigation by the Hague.
The truck, with more than 50 bodies still inside, was later pulled from the river by local police, but Milosevic and his allies put a quick end to any investigation by declaring the matter a “state secret.” The bodies were then disposed of and have never been found.
The investigation is the first sign of Yugoslav commitment to trying Milosevic for international war crimes, in addition to the lesser domestic charges of corruption and abuse of power he now faces.
“When we finish the investigation, we will file criminal charges,” said Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic. “For now it’s clear that this was a case of removing evidence of criminal acts.”
Police officials have interviewed more than 30 people, including associates of Milosevic who described a widespread plan to destroy evidence of war crimes.
Milosevic has been jailed in Belgrade since April 1 when he was arrested after a two-day armed standoff with police at his villa.
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who ousted Milosevic in October elections, faces increasing international pressure to hand his predecessor over to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Kostunica last month that the U.S. would withhold all future aid pending evidence of cooperation with the Hague.
The Yugoslav parliament is drafting legislation that would permit the extradition of suspects like Milosevic only if local courts found a basis for war crimes accusations.
Kostunica has not responded to Powell’s call to set a clear date for the handover.
Milosevic, who was ousted from power last fall after 13 years, was indicted by the war crimes tribunal in 1999 for the slaughter of thousands of Albanians in Kosovo.
Bodies of more than 4,000 ethnic Albanians were exhumed in Kosovo after Yugoslav troops were forced to leave the Serbian province following 1999 NATO airstrikes to punish Milosevic for the crackdown. More than 3,000 ethnic Albanians are still missing.
Hague prosecutors are also working on additional indictments for war crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims and Croats.