A Death Designed for Shock Effect
Former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, 64, was found dead in his cell at The Hague early Saturday, March 11. His lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic announced a few hours later that Milosevic had told him Friday that he feared he was being poisoned in the UN detention facility. He at once passed that information to the Russian embassy and now demanded that the official autopsy be conducted in Moscow, not The Hague.
The truth may never be known about the alleged poisoning claim.
The lawyer is in close touch with the Milosevic family in Moscow, who immediately announced their suspicion of foul play. The tribunal, they said was responsible for his death by refusing to let him have medical treatment for high blood pressure and a heart condition in Moscow.
Milosevic, extradited in 2001, chose to defend himself against 66 counts of war crimes and genocide in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s in a trial that dragged on more than four years, with endless delays, interruptions and grandstanding. The international justices promised a final decision this summer.
debkafile‘s Balkan and Russian sources believe that the accused leader was politically cunning and manipulative enough to engineer his death in a way to cause the greatest possible international shock and embarrassment. He may have instructed his lawyer to pass the poisoning suggestion to the Russian embassy and then deliver the bombshell after his death, together with the demand for the autopsy to take place in Moscow.
The manner of Milosevic’s death has opened two fronts:
1. The Russians are on the spot. President Vladimir Putin faced the option of demanding the body be handed over for autopsy or the presence of a Russian pathologist at the post mortem.
It will be recalled that Russian opinion under Boris Yeltsin backed Milosevic in the Balkan Wars as a great Serbian patriot and admired his willingness to defy the Americans and the Europeans and fight a Muslim takeover of the Balkans. He also had the support of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Putin will not be happy about confronting the US and the European Union on this matter. For the West, the former Yugoslav president is a war criminal who plunged his country into four ruinous wars among Serbs, Bosnians and Croatians, and was responsible for 200,000 deaths and countless atrocities.
But Moscow is involved, whether it likes it or not.
Four months ago, the Russians asked the tribunal to let Milosevic travel to Moscow for medical treatment at a specialist clinic. They promised to send him back to continue his trial in The Hague. But the judges decided the accused was trying another delaying tactic and said no. Now, Milosevic’s wife, Miryana Markovic, his son Marko, and brother, Borislav, who live in self-imposed exile in Russia, accuse the tribunal of killing the former Serbian ruler.
2. The second front concerns his funeral.
Held in Serbia, it would have to be a state even for a former president. However his widow and son are both wanted in Belgrade on criminal charges, Furthermore, he still has enough supporters at home to disrupt a funeral staged by his pro-Western successors. Given the enormous difficulties, burying him Russia makes the most sense and also fit in with the dead man’s wishes. A state funeral in Belgrade would mark the end of Serbia’s Milosevic era, a favor he is anxious to deny the incumbents, whereas a tomb in Russia would become a shrine for Serbian nationalists and keep alive their dream of a Greater Serbia.
Six days before the Serbian leader’s death, one his associates, the Serbian Croat Milan Babic, committed suicide in the same UN prison. He was serving a 13-year sentence on the charge of ethnic cleansing. The War Crimes Tribunal faces an awkward inquiry over the two Serbian deaths in UN custody in less than a week.
The conduct of the Milosevic trial bears comparison with the proceedings against Saddam Hussein in Baghdad – both charging wily opponents with war crimes and genocide and both posing overwhelming difficulties for the prosecution. Learning from mistakes in the Milosevic case, US policy-makers narrowed down the charges against the former dictator of Iraq to a single provable count, instead of making the tribunal wallow through 66 charges, none of which have been proved beyond doubt.