In ex-Yugoslavia, regret Milosevic died too soon

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PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro, Mar 11 (Reuters) Far from welcoming the death of their common enemy, the three people who fought Slobodan Milosevic in various campaigns were united in dismay today that he escaped judgment in court.

The former Yugoslav president outlived the other main protagonists who opposed him in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo -- Alija Izetbegovic, Franjo Tudjman and Ibrahim Rugova.

He died aged 64, charged but not convicted, in bed in his cell in The Hague -- a luxury not afforded his many victims.

His punishment would have been ''a drop of satisfaction in a sea of pain,'' said Kasim Cerkezi, a Kosovo Albanian who lost six relatives, including his son and brother, in a Serb offensive seven years ago this month. ''I blame the Hague tribunal for punishing him too slowly,'' he said.

Munira Subasic, a survivor of the 1995 Serb massacre of 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica -- Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two -- said: ''It would have been just if he had lived to see his conviction and served the sentence for the crimes that he committed.'' Milosevic, ousted in 2000 and extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal in 2001, was months from the end of his trial on 66 counts of war crimes, including genocide, for his role in the breakup of Yugoslavia that cost more than 100,000 lives.

He was the UN tribunal's No1 indictee whose conviction, prosecutors said, would provide the ultimate moment of catharsis for Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians.

Serbs, they argued, would see him punished for the crimes he committed in their name.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY People from across the former Yugoslavia expressed anger that the UN tribunal did not speed up his trial, deciding to try Milosevic on one complete indictment rather than splitting the charges.

''The death of the dictator Milosevic is a missed opportunity to confront him with justice and punishment for war crimes and genocide committed in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia,'' said Kosovo Albanian Prime Minister Agim Ceku, a former guerrilla who fought Serb forces in Croatia and Kosovo.

Croatian President Stjepan Mesic said it was ''a pity he didn't live through the trial and get his deserved sentence.'' But the leader of the Bosnian Muslims took some consolation from the genocide trial that began last month at the International Court of Justice in which Sarajevo is suing Belgrade -- the first such prosecution of a state.

''I still believe that we have enough evidence to prove that he was deeply involved in wartime events in Bosnia in our genocide and aggression lawsuit against Serbia and Montenegro,'' said Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's tri-presidency.

In Serbia and Montenegro, the union that eventually replaced Yugoslavia when the four other republics declared independence in the early 1990s, few Serbs lamented the failure to convict Milosevic -- the ultimate proof of what many Serbs continue to deny: Belgrade's direct involvement in the wars.

The president, a Montenegrin, provided the exception: ''Milosevic is departing and I hope that finally a period of death, separation and evil will end as well,'' said Svetozar Marovic. ''With his death history will be denied the complete judgment and truth about his involvement in this.'' Reuters OM VP0118

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