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By Nicola Leske

Written by: Staff

THE HAGUE, Mar 13 (Reuters) Slobodan Milosevic's body will be released to his family today, while experts decide whether his death from heart failure months before a verdict in his war crimes trial was due to natural causes or suicide.

It was not immediately clear where the body of the man branded the ''Butcher of the Balkans'' over the conflicts in the 1990s would go -- his widow lives in Russia and faces arrest in Serbia -- and where the burial or cremation would take place.

As some world figures and war victims' relatives said the death had robbed them of justice, the UN war crimes tribunal said yesterday a preliminary autopsy report showed the 64-year-old former Yugoslav president died from heart failure.

The autopsy on the body of Milosevic, who suffered from a heart condition and high blood pressure, was conducted by Dutch scientists and attended by Serbian pathologists. Serbia said the autopsy was very professional.

Milosevic, found dead in his cell on Saturday, faced a possible life sentence over the tribunal's charges on 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes involving conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo as Yugoslavia imploded.

''According to the pathologist, Slobodan Milosevic's cause of death was a 'myocardial infarction' (heart failure),'' the UN tribunal said in a statement in The Hague.

''A toxicological examination will still be carried out,'' it said. A tribunal spokeswoman said the final report on Milosevic's death may take more than a day.

RISE TO POWER 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 grief in Serbia at the weekend, now in talks on steps to EU membership.

UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte said on Sunday it was possible Milosevic had committed suicide and that his death made it all the more urgent to catch others blamed for the horrors of the Balkan wars.

Del Ponte said he might have wanted to thwart the impending verdict in his marathon four-year-old trial, which she said she had expected to be one of guilty.

''It deprives the victims of the justice they need and deserve,'' she said. ''Now more than ever I expect Serbia to finally arrest and transfer Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic to the Hague as soon as possible.'' Serbia is under pressure to send former Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic and his military commander Mladic -- like Milosevic both accused of genocide -- to The Hague or jeopardise its hopes of joining the European Union, up for discussion next month.

Del Ponte noted it was the second death in a week at the Hague tribunal's detention centre. Former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic committed suicide.

Milosevic's lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic said his client had feared he was being poisoned, but the tribunal rejected a request for the autopsy to be done in Russia, close ally of the former Yugoslavia and home to Milosevic's wife, brother and son.

Tomanovic said his client had written to Russia asking for help a day before his death, adding he had been given the wrong drugs -- including some for leprosy -- in a bid to silence him.


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