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Milosevic died in cell many critics termed luxury

Written by: Staff

THE HAGUE, Mar 11 (Reuters) Slobodan Milosevic died in an en suite cell many critics said was too much like a luxury hotel room for someone charged with war crimes.

Milosevic spent the last five years of his life in the cell, which resembled a college dormitory room where he listened to Frank Sinatra CDs, watched television and mingled with other war crimes suspects.

It was a far cry from the splendour Milosevic enjoyed as Yugoslav president, but a step up from the windowless Belgrade cell where he spent many of his last months in his native country before his 2001 transfer to face trial in The Hague.

Milosevic, found dead in his cell today, was the highest profile figure among dozens of people accused of war crimes in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s to be detained by the UN war crimes tribunal.

The detention centre, which has identical three-by-five metre (yard) cells, is surrounded by the high walls of a Dutch prison near the sand dunes of the North Sea beach resort of Scheveningen.

Each cell has a toilet, wash basin, shower, table, wardrobe, coffee maker, television and bed. There are comfortable chairs and some detainees have spread quilts over their beds.

In common rooms, they can play board games, cook and watch television together. There is no mixing with Dutch prisoners.

The detention centre's population of 47 charged with war crimes in the Balkan conflicts is made up mainly of Serbs but also includes Croats and Muslims.

With 75 guards, language assistants, teachers, psychologists and medical staff on the payroll, it costs around 7 million euros ( million) a year to run.

''EXTRAORDINARY COMFORTS'' ''(Milosevic) had really quite extraordinary comforts given that he was in prison,'' the tribunal's first prosecutor Richard Goldstone told BBC television today.

The UN tribunal dismisses comparisons with a luxury hotel, but admits to trying to create a positive environment.

''They cook. They play chess. They do arts and crafts. They are very keen on ceramics,'' Tim McFadden, head of the detention centre, told Reuters. Detainees can also play volleyball, indoor soccer, take walks and use gym equipment.

''My responsibility is to foster and maintain the physical and emotional welfare of these people who are awaiting and undergoing trial.'' McFadden told the Irish Examiner in 2001 Milosevic was a model prisoner. ''He is extremely compliant with the rules of detention and he is extremely respectful to the staff and to me,'' said McFadden.

Milosevic suffered a heart condition and high blood pressure that repeatedly interrupted his trial, which started in February 2002 and had been expected to end this year.

Many detainees have suffered major depression. Last week, former rebel Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic -- convicted of war crimes -- committed suicide at the detention centre. Two other inmates died in 1998, one of them from suicide.

The Scheveningen prison complex is a couple of kilometres (about a mile) from the tribunal court building in the leafy outskirts of The Hague, also home to the Dutch government, the World Court and International Criminal Court.

A children's playground is just outside the prison's main door. Neat brick terraced houses line the edge of the prison.

The detainees' day begins with breakfast before the cell doors open at 8:30 am Except for two hour-long breaks for meals and guard changes, they can roam their floors for 12 hours, court sessions permitting. They are allowed an hour's fresh air in the exercise yard.

Milosevic, like other detainees, was given a small daily allowance to spend in the detention centre's shop. Food and cigarettes are on offer, although telephone calling cards are the most popular buy.

Reuters OM VP0122

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