| An Ethnic Albanian reads a Sunday newspaper which has a front-page picture of Slobodan Milosevic and headline reading “To Hell”; A Milosevic supporter cries as she holds a banner reading “Slobo! 11 March 2006” at the Socialist Party headquarters in Belgrade on Sunday. (AFP)
The Hague, March 12 (Reuters): The chief UN war crimes prosecutor today said it was possible Slobodan Milosevic committed suicide and his death made it all the more urgent to catch others blamed for the horrors of the Balkan wars.
UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte said the former Yugoslav President might have wanted to thwart the impending verdict in his marathon war crimes trial which she said she expected to be one of guilty, followed by a life sentence.
She noted it was the second death in a week at the Hague tribunal’s detention centre. Former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic took his own life last Sunday.
Dutch scientists began an autopsy today, with senior pathologists from Serbia observing.
The 64-year-old, who suffered from a heart condition and high blood pressure, was found dead in his cell yesterday, only months before a verdict was due in his trial on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the 1990s.
Milosevic’s lawyer said his client had feared he was being poisoned, but the tribunal rejected his request for the autopsy to take place in Russia, a close ally of the former Yugoslavia and home to Milosevic’s wife, brother and son.
Today, lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic said Milosevic had written to Russia asking for help just a day before his death, stating he had been given the wrong drugs ' such as those for leprosy ' in an attempt to silence him.
Last month, the court rejected a request by Milosevic to go to Russia for medical treatment, noting the trial was almost over and specialists could come to The Hague to treat him.
Tribunal president Fausto Pocar said he had ordered a full inquiry and said the Dutch authorities were also probing.
Both Pocar and Del Ponte said they regretted the death. “It deprives the victims of the justice they need and deserve,” Del Ponte told reporters.
“Now more than ever I expect Serbia to finally arrest and transfer Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic to the Hague as soon as possible. The death of Milosevic makes it even more urgent for them to face justice.”
Serbia is under pressure to transfer Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic and his military commander Mladic ' like Milosevic both accused of genocide ' to The Hague or risk its hopes of joining the European Union, up for discussion next month.
Describing his death as a “total defeat”, Del Ponte told Italian daily La Repubblica she was furious and believed the approach of a verdict could have prompted him to take his life. “Perhaps he wanted to avoid all that.”