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Milosevic Death a Blow to Victims and Tribunal


The death of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has sparked disappointment among world leaders and victims alike that he did not live to face justice on more than 60 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The United States expressed its support for the work of the International Tribunal that was trying the former leader.

Slobodan Milosevic died Saturday in his cell at the United Nations Detention Unit near The Hague where he had been on trial for the past four years for his role in the wars in former Yugoslavia.

In Kosovo, the Serbian province where Milosevic sent troops to crush an uprising by the ethnic Albanian majority, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Agim Cheku said she was neither happy nor unhappy about the news. "We just heard the news, and we are sorry that Mr. Milosevic didn't live enough to face the result of the process against him, and to face the truth of what he has done in Kosovo during the '90s, and in the Balkans, as well," she said.

Croatian President Stipe Mesic said he regrets that Milosevic did not live long enough to receive the sentence he deserved.

Former Balkans envoy David Owen told British television that Milosevic was a complicated man, who was "ruthless" and "power crazy." He said it is a "tragedy" that Milosevic died before there was a verdict in his war crimes trial stemming from atrocities in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. "There's bound to be a sense of tremendous sort of feeling of being cheated by the victims. But even more important, the Serbs who are beginning to realize that they were responsible for this, needed this verdict. They saw the television film of this massacre in Srebenica, involving Serb soldiers, and a guilty verdict would, in my view, have made them face reality," he said.

Mothers and widows of some of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys massacred in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebenica in 1995 shared that view.

This woman says she is not happy Milosevic has died, and wishes he had lived to get a just verdict.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he hoped Milosevic's death would help the people of Serbia come to terms with their past, to better face the future. "What is important is that the region, particularly the people of Serbia, now draw a line across Milosevic's past and his life, which was a malign influence on the people of Serbia and the whole of the region," he said.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said his thoughts go out to the families and people Milosevic made suffer. He said he believes Milosevic had a fair trial, and hopes his death will help Serbia look to the future." "The first thing I'd like to say is to the people of Serbia. I want to tell them that they have a place, without any doubt, among the family of European nations. I think justice has been served," he said.

But the European Union also says the death of Milosevic does not absolve Serbia of responsibility for handing over war crimes suspects, including the two most wanted, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military commander Ratko Mladic.

In Serbia, reactions were mixed. The Serbian government has demanded the U.N. war crimes court provide it with a full report on Milosevic's death, which it called a "tragic event."

Some Serbs expressed suspicion about Milosevic's death in U.N. custody. Others said they were happy to see him dead after the damage he inflicted on the country. Vuk Draskovic, foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, the successor state to Yugoslavia, says it is a shame that Milosevic was not tried in his own country.

Milosevic's brother blamed the tribunal for his death, because it refused to allow him to go to Moscow for treatment. Milosevic suffered from heart problems and high blood pressure. The tribunal said it feared the former president, dubbed the "Butcher of the Balkans" would flee if he were allowed to leave The Hague.

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