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Milosevic's Body Returned to Serbia for Burial


The body of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has arrived in Serbia on a commercial flight from the Netherlands for a private burial in his home town of Pozarevac.

There were no honor guards, no speeches. All that Serbs saw on television was a small group of Milosevic's Socialist Party supporters waiting in the bitter cold at Belgrade airport.

The functionaries draped his coffin in a Serbian flag as soon as it emerged from the cargo compartment of the airliner and carried it to a waiting van.

The Serbian government had made it clear there would be no state funeral for Milosevic.

As Milosevic's body was being honored by his followers in a private ceremony, questions continue to abound over the circumstances that led to his death in a prison cell near the U.N. tribunal in The Hague where he was tried for war crimes.

Russia's top cardiologist, Leo Bokeria, who headed a team of Russian doctors who joined Dutch pathologists in the Netherlands, ruled out poisoning and agreed he had died of a heart attack.

But he suggested that better medical treatment in the U.N. detention facility could have avoided Milosevic's death.

"It is my opinion that his death was preventable," said Bokeria. "Absolutely. Because he had a pathology which is treated in any place in the world at the moment."

Serbian President Boris Tadic agreed, saying Milosevic's death has diminished the credibility of the U.N. tribunal. He recalled that Milosevic died shortly after Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic committed suicide in the same jail.

"I have to say that we have a problem today with the credibility of The Hague Tribunal because of two very sensitive cases within three weeks," said Tadic. "First of all the suicide of Mr. Babic and after that Milosevic's death. [This is controversial] especially after his demand for extra medical care. This is a real problem for my country today and the government in Serbia."

But he said Belgrade will continue to cooperate with the U.N. court in bringing other war crimes suspects to international justice.

Mr. Tadic said honoring Milosevic in a state funeral would be "absolutely inappropriate considering the role he has played in Serbia's recent history." Milosevic took Serbia through four wars during his 13 years in power.

Milosevic, who was 64, will be laid to rest on Saturday in his home town of Pozarevac.

It was still unclear whether his widow, Mira Markovic, who is in self-imposed exile in Moscow, would attend the funeral. Once a powerful figure in Serbian politics, she is facing corruption charges at home, and while a Belgrade court temporarily lifted a warrant for her arrest, it also ordered she surrender her passport on arrival.

Chief editor of Serbia's Politika newspaper, Ljiljana Smajlovic, says Milosevic's death spared the Serbs international condemnation.

"Everyone here feels I think that Mr. Milosevic's dying unconvicted may to some extent help Serbia evade collective punishment at the World Court and may help in Serbia not being convicted of genocide," said Smajlovic.

Elsewhere in Europe, the death of Milosevic is seen as an opportunity for Serbia to bury its bloodstained past and build a more peaceful future.

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