Serbia waits to bury Milosevic

THE HAGUE – The son of Slobodan Milosevic went to see his father’s body yesterday as Serbian authorities opened the way for the former Yugoslav leader and indicted war criminal to be buried in his native land. Hours after a UN court formally closed the book on the historic war crimes trial, Marko Milosevic arrived under diplomatic escort at the Dutch forensic institute here where Slobodan Milosevic’s body has been stored. He was accompanied by a legal adviser to his late father, Zdenko Tomanovic, after flying in from Moscow earlier in the day with four Russian doctors. Two hours later he left, without the body. A van big enough to transport a coffin remained parked outside. The doctors were expected at the institute later in the day to review the autopsy carried out on Sunday by Dutch and Serbian pathologists, a day after the former president died in his prison cell while on trial for war crimes. Russia has voiced doubts about the autopsy, which listed the cause of death as a heart attack. In Belgrade, a court revoked an arrest warrant for Milosevic’s widow Mira Markovic, effectively allowing her to return to Serbia for the first time in three years. A court spokeswoman, Ivana Ramic, said Markovic would still have to appear before a judge on March 23 to face fraud charges. «The accused remains free as long as she responds to the court’s summons,» Ramic told AFP. «Otherwise she will be arrested and detained.» Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the ruling enabled a funeral to go ahead in Serbia. Authorities have ruled out a state funeral. «Funerals are civilized acts that must be respected. That is in the spirit of our tradition and I am convinced that everybody, on such an occasion, will have such an approach,» he said. Before boarding his plane, Marko Milosevic claimed Serbian officials were blocking his family’s bid to bury Milosevic in his homeland. «The authorities in Belgrade… want to avoid this event,» he said. «They are threatening us officially and unofficially.» Markovic, who was often seen as the power behind Milosevic’s throne, would also have to surrender her passport, Ramic added. For the Serbian press, it was all part of a back-door political deal – Markovic would get the warrant lifted and Milosevic’s family and party would ensure a quiet funeral without any embarrassing shows of force. Once a powerful political figure in her own right, Markovic, 63, is thought to have been living in Russia since 2003. She was devoted to Milosevic and a funeral without her presence would have been unthinkable. Yet she remains controversial. Although the warrant was for a fairly minor fraud allegation, she has also been tied to the disappearance in 2000 of Ivan Stambolic, a former president and one-time Milosevic ally. In The Hague, it took the war crimes tribunal just minutes to close a case that heard evidence of some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II but ultimately failed to prove his guilt. Presiding judge Patrick Robinson said the «untimely passing» of the former leader had «deprived not only him, but indeed all the interested parties of a judgment upon the allegations in the indictment.» Milosevic had been on trial at the UN court here for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the 1990s Balkans conflicts that claimed more than 200,000 lives. One of the main charges was over the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, considered a genocide. He was the first former head of state to go before an international court, a step human rights organizations hailed as a great advance in the fight against impunity. His death at 64 cut short a process lasting over four years and involving hundreds of witnesses, with only a few weeks left for his defense. Donald Uges, a Dutch toxicologist who examined Milosevic’s blood two weeks before his death, claimed he deliberately took drugs to neutralize the effects of heart medication and secure «a one-way ticket to Moscow» for treatment. Serbian President Boris Tadic has dismissed a state funeral for Milosevic, citing his role in the Balkans and his ouster in a popular uprising in 2000. The former strongman is revered by hardcore nationalists but reviled by others for bringing shame to the nation.