POZAREVAC, Serbia-Montenegro – Slobodan Milosevic was laid to rest Saturday beneath a tree at the family estate in his hometown, a quiet end for a man blamed for ethnic wars that killed 250,000 people in one of the turbulent Balkans’ bloodiest chapters.
The late Serbian leader’s burial, a week after his death while on U.N. trial charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, followed an emotional farewell in Belgrade that drew at least 80,000 Serb nationalists and another in his birthplace attended by up to 20,000 admirers.
As a cold drizzle fell, his flag-draped coffin was lowered into a double grave with a place for his widow, Mirjana Markovic, who reportedly wants to join him when she dies.
No immediate members of Milosevic’s family attended.
But in a letter read at graveside, Markovic, who lives in self-imposed exile in Moscow because she faces Serbian charges of abuse of power during her husband’s 13-year reign, said: “You lost your life while fighting for noble causes. You were killed by villains. But I know you will live forever for all who wish to live like human beings.”
No priest officiated at the interment because Milosevic was an avowed atheist.
Among the supporters in Pozarevac were several indicted war crimes suspects on temporary leave from the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. One, retired Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, wore his military uniform.
Earlier in Belgrade, Milosevic supporters packed a square in front of the federal parliament to pay their respects. Many were bused in by his Socialist Party from Serb areas in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, where Milosevic started wars during the splintering of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Serbian authorities refused to approve an official ceremony, but Saturday’s farewell – organized by the Socialists and technically private – had some of the trappings of a state funeral.
Still, though larger than many had expected, the crowd in Belgrade was far smaller than the 500,000 who turned out for the 2003 funeral of assassinated Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic, who had turned Milosevic over to the U.N. tribunal two years earlier.
Milosevic, 64, died March 11 in his room at a U.N. detention center near the tribunal, which was trying him on 66 counts of war crimes, including genocide.
Milosevic died of a heart attack, according to a forensic examination. For many of his supporters, Milosevic’s use of drugs that counteracted medication for high blood pressure remains a mystery, and his die-hard followers have accused the tribunal of murder.