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UN tribunal faces questions after Milosevic death

Written by: Staff

AMSTERDAM, Mar 12 (Reuters) The UN war crimes tribunal hopes an autopsy on Slobodan Milosevic today will clear up the cause of his death in his cell only months before a verdict was due in his four-year-old trial.

Milosevic, branded the ''Butcher of the Balkans'' for conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s, was found dead yesterday, prompting some world figures and relatives of war victims to say they had been robbed of justice.

As questions were raised as to why the trial had dragged on for so long, a tribunal spokeswoman said there was no indication the 64-year-old former Yugoslav president -- who suffered from a heart condition and high blood pressure -- committed suicide.

Milosevic's lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic told reporters his client had feared he was being poisoned but the tribunal rejected a request for the autopsy to take place in Russia.

Milosevic rose to the top of Yugoslav politics in the power vacuum left by the 1980 death of Yugoslavia's post-World War Two communist dictator Marshal Josip Broz Tito.

Elected Serbian president in 1990, he ruled with an iron grip until his overthrow in 2000. There was little sign of grief in Serbia, now in talks on first steps towards EU membership.

Milosevic was charged with 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in indictments covering conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo as Yugoslavia imploded.

The charges included involvement in the siege of Sarajevo during the 1992-95 Bosnia war and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in the UN ''safe area'' of Srebrenica, Europe's worst single atrocity since World War Two.

Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities, Rasim Ljajic, would travel to The Hague today with two pathologists for the autopsy, officials said.

Milosevic's trial, Europe's most significant war crimes case since top Nazis were tried after World War Two, began in February 2002.

ROBBED OF JUSTICE The tribunal faces questions from those who feel robbed of justice about why the trial had gone on so long compared with the one-year life of Nuremberg and the more limited scope of Saddam Hussein's trial in Iraq.

Milosevic's ill-health had repeatedly interrupted his trial.

Last month, the court rejected his bid to go to Russia for medical treatment, noting the trial was nearly finished.

The tribunal also faces questions over monitoring of inmates at its detention centre because Milosevic's death was the second within a week after the suicide of former rebel Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic.

A former ally of Milosevic already convicted for war crimes, Babic was a key witness against the former Yugoslav leader, accusing him of bringing shame on Serbs.

Normal detention centre procedures mean inmates are checked every 30 minutes during the night.

UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, due to hold a news conference in The Hague at 1630 hrs IST, said: ''The death of Slobodan Milosevic, a few weeks before the completion of his trial, will prevent justice to be done in his case.'' But she said in a statement others must be punished for the crimes he was accused of and said six war crimes suspects still at large, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, must be arrested.

European Union foreign ministers yesterday reminded Serbia that it must arrest the fugitives or risk its bid to join the bloc.

Milosevic's death occurred at a difficult time for Serbia with Kosovo poised to win independence and Montenegro also set to vote on a split from Belgrade in a referendum in May.

Only a single wreath and two candles were placed at Milosevic's Socialist Party headquarters and a handful of mourners displayed posters. Hardline nationalist parties said he should be buried in the national heroes' cemetery.

Reuters OM VP0730

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