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Milosevic's Death Leaves Unanswered Questions

DEBBIE ELLIOT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Debbie Elliot.

Slobodan Milosevic, the man branded the butcher of the Balkans, was found dead today at his detention cell in the Netherlands. He was 64 years old. For four years now, Milosevic has been on trial at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. Prosecutors charged him with genocide, crimes against humanity and other crimes for the bloodshed that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia. Throughout the U.N. proceedings, Milosevic acted as his own attorney and used the tribunal as a platform to rant against what he saw as a conspiracy by the West against the Serbian people.

President SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC (Former Yugoslavian President): And you are no juridical institution. You are a political tool.

Unidentified Man: Mr. Milosevic, we are not going to listen to these political arguments.

ELLIOTT: Milosevic's death today leaves many unanswered questions. We begin our coverage tonight with Gregory Crouch. He's in the tribunal building at The Hague where he's been reporting for the New York Times. Hello there.

Mr. GREGORY CROUCH (Reporter, New York Times): Hi.

ELLIOTT: What do we know about the death?

Mr. CROUCH: We know very little about his actual cause of death. He was in poor health. Tomorrow an autopsy is scheduled. A pathologist from Belgrade will also be in attendance, so we'll have to wait and see.

ELLIOTT: Who asked for the autopsy?

Mr. CROUCH: The Court asked for the autopsy, but Mr. Milosevic's family wanted one as well. They want the autopsy to be performed in Moscow because they believe he was poisoned in prison. The Court has denied that request.

ELLIOTT: Now, he's the second Serb to die in custody in a week there.

Mr. CROUCH: That's true. About a week ago, Milan Babic committed suicide here, and he was the leader of a breakaway province and he took his own life after having expressed remorse for all of the killings that had occurred in the Balkans. So the Court, as you can imagine at this moment, is coming under a great deal of pressure. Some Dutch politicians and others around the world are saying that the Court has not done enough to protect the well-being and health of its detainees.

ELLIOTT: What happens now with the trial and the tribunal? I mean, Milosevic was the star defendant there.

Mr. CROUCH: Well, Mr. Milosevic will not go down in history as a convicted war criminal, that's now for sure. Cases against other alleged war criminals, however, will go on as planned. It remains to be seen whether the Court wins convictions in those cases or not.

ELLIOTT: Reporter Gregory Crouch in The Hague. Thank you very much.

Mr. CROUCH: Thank you.

ELLIOTT: And now for a reaction in Belgrade we turn to reporter Dejan Anastasiejevic. Hello, there.

Mr. DEJAN ANASTASIEJEVIC (Reporter): Yes, hello.

ELLIOTT: Can you tell us what the mood is there?

Mr. ANASTASIEJEVIC: It's just, you know, politics as usual, really. Nobody really expected this, but in Russia that does not change anything here. He's been removed from the political scene a while ago when he was dispatched to The Hague.

ELLIOTT: How do you think that Slobodan Milosevic will be remembered in Serbia?

Mr. ANASTASIEJEVIC: Well, I think that will remain an open question for a while. This debate, whether Milosevic was some sort of defender of a Serbian nation or a villain and a devil who destroyed the former Yugoslavia and a war criminal, this debate started actually while Milosevic was still in power in Belgrade and it's still going on, and those people who believe he was a hero still believe so, even more than before, and those who believe he is a villain are saying good riddance.

ELLIOTT: Do you think his death will end that debate or will this be a debate that continues?

Mr. ANASTASIEJEVIC: I don't think that his death will end the debate. That debate will probably go on for decades. I think that the process against Milosevic was a great experiment in international justice and it's a pity that this experiment will not yield conclusive results.

ELLIOTT: Now how do you think his death will affect Serbia's relations with the U.N. tribunal? There are still war crime suspects believed to be hiding in Serbia or the Serbian part of Bosnia.

Mr. ANASTASIEJEVIC: I do not think there will be a lasting impact. Serbia has accepted several times formally the obligation to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal. They simply had to. And they know that. Of course, the public opinion here is very much against the tribunal. They see it as a kangaroo court. They see it as a court which is grossly unfair to Serbs, but Milosevic's death of course will not change this opinion. It will only cement it. However, international obligations are international obligations and the government knows that they have to pursue them.

ELLIOTT: I assume the Milosevic family will want him to be buried in Serbia, but his wife and son are wanted by Interpol. What have you heard about funeral arrangements?

Mr. ANASTASIEJEVIC: At this point we don't know much about the funeral arrangements. What we do know is that Milosevic's wife, Mirja Markovic, and his son Marko are both fugitives from justice because there are criminal charges in Serbia unrelated to war crimes against both of them. Mostly corruption charges. And there's a prevailing anticipation here that the family who is mostly in Russia will probably want to have Milosevic buried in Russia because his wife and son will not be able to attend if he's buried in Serbia because they will be arrested.

ELLIOTT: Dejan Anastasiejevic is a reporter in Belgrade. Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. ANASTASIEJEVIC: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.