THE HAGUE, Mar 12 (Reuters) Chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte said today she could not rule out that Slobodan Milosevic might have committed suicide but said she wanted to wait for the results of an autopsy.
''Of course it could be possible,'' she said, noting that the death of the former Yugoslav president yesterday was the second within a week at the tribunal's detention centre after the suicide of former rebel Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic.
The UN war crimes tribunal has said there was no indication Milosevic committed suicide. But it has requested an autopsy hoping to clear up the cause of his death.
Earlier, Del Ponte told an Italian newspaper the approach of sentencing could have prompted Milosevic to take his life.
''According to our valuations, (the trial) would have closed with a condemnation requesting he be shut away for life. Perhaps he wanted to avoid all that,'' Del Ponte told la Repubblica.
Former Balkan envoy David Owen made a simliar suggestion, referring to the suicides of Milosevic's father and mother.
''It may well be that we'll find out that realising once it was getting close to sentence they may have returned to the very intrusive watch arrangements ... that he might see this as the moment to commit suicide, to take some form of poison,'' he told Britain's Sky television.
Del Ponte said she was enraged by Milosevic's death, only months before the verdict was due in his four-year-old trial. ''I am furious,'' she said in the interview.
''In an instant everything was lost ... The death of Milosevic represents for me a total defeat.'' She told the news conference she expected initial results of the autopsy later on Sunday or on Monday, although she noted that results of toxicology tests could take longer.
Medical checks of Milosevic, who was found dead in his cell, were thorough and should have picked up any worsening in his heart condition and high blood pressure, she said.
''It is very strange, even if it is of course possible, that he should have died so suddenly without these medics having noticed a worsening of his condition.'' She refused to comment at the news conference on allegations by Milosevic's lawyer that he may have been poisoned but told la Repubblica it would have been impossible.
''In prison, Milosevic came to be considered and treated by all as a president, his old status was always recognised. Above all, there was much attention given to the preparation of his meals, there was no chance of unusual contacts.'' Owen said the West had no interest in killing Milosevic.
''Our interests were in bringing him to a verdict and hearing a verdict. Nobody who listened to that trial had much doubt that the judge would on most of the charges find him guilty.'' REUTERS CH RN1753