THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A swirl of suspicion surrounded Slobodan Milosevic’s death, with evidence emerging Monday that the former Yugoslav leader took medication he wasn’t supposed to.
Among the scenarios being floated: drugs smuggled into prison, a poisoning plot and the possibility that Milosevic was undermining his own treatment in hopes of being sent to Moscow, where his wife and son live in exile.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow did not fully trust the autopsy report and would send its own pathologists to examine the body. The U.N. war crimes tribunal had said a heart attack killed Milosevic, according to preliminary findings from Dutch pathologists who conducted a nearly eight-hour autopsy.
Milosevic’s family also wants Russian pathologists to conduct a second autopsy, the family’s lawyer said. Four Russian doctors were granted weeklong visas to visit the Netherlands.
There was concern that a funeral in Serbia could ignite nationalist passions and cause turmoil for the pro-democracy authorities who toppled Milosevic in 2000. Milosevic was overthrown after a 13-year reign in which many around the world blamed him for a series of wars that killed hundreds of thousands and left the former Yugoslavia a splintered ruin.
As plans for Milosevic’s funeral remained in disarray and his son, Marko, headed to the Netherlands to retrieve the body, a Dutch toxicologist said Monday that the war crimes defendant took unprescribed antibiotics that may have worsened his health.
The assessment by Donald Uges – based on blood tests carried out in recent months – raised questions about security at the prison and echoed past accusations by the trial’s leading attorney that Milosevic repeatedly ignored medical advice and prescribed himself drugs.
Milosevic was found dead in his prison cell in The Hague on Saturday, just hours after writing Russian officials a letter alleging that an “extremely strong drug” was found in his bloodstream. Zdenko Tomanovic, his family lawyer, said Milosevic was “seriously concerned” he was being poisoned.
Milosevic had asked the tribunal in December for permission to seek heart treatment in Moscow. That request was denied after tribunal officials expressed concern Milosevic might not return. He repeated the request last month.
Serbian President Boris Tadic said the U.N. war crimes tribunal was responsible for Milosevic’s death, though he added that it would not hamper Serbia’s future cooperation with the court. Serbia was the dominant republic in the former Yugoslavia.
“Undoubtedly, Milosevic had demanded a higher level of health care,” Tadic said in an interview with the Associated Press. “That right should have been granted to all war crimes defendants.”
He added, “I think they are responsible for what happened.”
It appeared increasingly probable the body would be returned to Serbia for a politically charged burial that could be a rallying point for nationalists.
Marko Milosevic raised the possibility of a temporary burial in Russia – an apparent effort to get around the standing arrest warrant in Serbia against widow Mirjana Markovic.
But Tomanovic, the lawyer, said Monday it was the family’s wish for his body to be returned to Belgrade, and prosecutors urged a Serb court to lift an arrest warrant against his widow temporarily.