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Milosevic post mortem points to heart attack

Slobodan Milosevic died of a heart attack in his jail cell, according to preliminary post mortem findings tonight.

The UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague released a statement saying it had received “a brief summary of the autopsy results”.

According to the pathologists, Slobodan Milosevic’s cause of death was a ‘myocardial infarction’.”

Milosevic had appealed to the war crimes tribunal last December to be allowed to go to a heart clinic in Moscow for treatment. The request was denied. He repeated the request as late as last month.

Dutch pathologists carried out an eight hour post examination on the former Yugoslav president today after he was found dead in his cell on Saturday morning.

The statement came after a day of speculation on the cause of death that ranged from ill health to suicide to poison.

Earlier chief UN prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, dismissed claims that 64-year-old Milosevic committed suicide or was poisoned as “rumours.”

“You have the choice between normal, natural death and suicide,” she told reporters at the tribunal, where Milosevic had been standing trial for more than four years on 66 counts of war crimes and genocide in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during Yugoslavia’s violent break-up in the 1990s.

Milosevic, branded by critics the Butcher of the Balkans, had suffered from heart ailments and high blood pressure, and his bad health caused numerous breaks in his four-year trial.

Milosevic’s legal adviser said the former president had feared he was being poisoned. He showed reporters a six-page letter Milosevic had written on Friday - the day before his death – claiming that traces of a “heavy drug” were found in his blood. The letter was addressed to the Russian Embassy asking for help.

Zdenko Tomanovic said Milosevic was “seriously concerned” he was being poisoned. “’They would like to poison me,”’ he quoted Milosevic as telling him.

A Dutch news report, citing an unidentified “adviser” to the UN war crimes tribunal, said traces of a drug used to treat leprosy and tuberculosis had been found in a blood sample taken from Milosevic in recent months.

Tribunal spokeswoman Alexandra Milenov said she could not comment on the report.

The report by Dutch state broadcaster NOS did not identify the source further. Nor did it name the drug found “in a test done in recent months,” but said it could have had a “neutralising effect” on Milosevic’s other medications.

Doctors found traces of the drug when they were searching for an answer to why Milosevic’s medication for high blood pressure was not working, the report said.

Milosevic underwent frequent medical examinations by doctors and specialists appointed by the tribunal and by Serb doctors brought at his own request. Detailed reports were routinely submitted to the judges.

Tribunal President Fausto Pocar said he ordered the post mortem and a toxicological examination after a Dutch coroner was unable to establish the cause of death on Saturday. Serbia sent a pathologist to observe the examination at the Netherlands Forensic Institute.

A Milosevic associate who said he spoke to him on Friday described the former Yugoslav president as defiant hours before his death.

“He told me, ’Don’t you worry: They will not destroy me or break me. I shall defeat them all,”’ said Milorad Vucelic, a Socialist Party official.

Milosevic’s body will be released to his family tomorrow, said Rasim Ljajic, Serbia-Montenegro’s human rights minister.

The tribunal confirmed the body would be released Monday – but the family has yet to decide where to bury Milosevic.

His brother, Borislav Milosevic, suggested he should be buried “in his own country, as he’s a son of Serbia”.

But the former president’s wife, Mirjana Markovic, and their son, Marko, are wanted on international warrants for abuse of power, and could be arrested if they return to Serbia for a funeral. They want Milosevic buried in Russia, where they live, Beta said.

However, Milosevic’s daughter, Marija, said he should be buried in the family grave in Montenegro. “He’s not a Russian to be buried in Moscow,” she told Beta, adding that she would not attend a Moscow funeral.

The family has blamed the death on the UN tribunal, which refused Milosevic’s request to go to Russia.

Milosevic was arrested in 2001 and put on trial in February 2002, the first sitting head of state indicted for war crimes.

But his health problems repeatedly delayed the proceedings, which were due to end this year. Milosevic suffered from heart trouble and chronic high blood pressure, worsened by the stress of conducting his own defence.

His death means there will be no judicial verdict on Milosevic.

“It is a great pity for justice that the trial will not be completed and no verdict will be rendered,” Del Ponte said. His death “deprives victims of the justice they need and deserve”.

Kasim Qerkezi, a Kosovo Albanian whose 18-year-old son was killed during a 1999 crackdown by Serb forces, was bitter.

“He was like a snake that always slips away,” he said. ”He died without paying back a fraction of what he owed to all of us.”

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