Milosevic surrenders after siege

Former president of Yugoslavia opted to yield `to save lives'

Faces war crimes charges

Serbian authorities intend to try him for local offenses

April 01, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was arrested and taken into custody last night, ending a tense two-day standoff.

Before 4:30 a.m. local time, a five-vehicle convoy was seen whisking Milosevic from his heavily guarded villa, where he had staged his desperate last stand.

A Serbian Ministry of Interior spokesman said Milosevic, who faces local corruption charges, offered no resistance and had been taken to Belgrade Central Prison

Zarko Korac, Serbia's deputy prime minister, told The Sun, "We tried very hard to avoid casualties, and we succeeded."

Milosevic had vowed earlier that he would not be taken into custody alive.

A top Milosevic aide, Branislan Ivkovic, said Milosevic surrendered voluntarily "to include himself in the legal procedure."

Ivkovic added that Milosevic "decided to do this thing to save lives."

The arrest came after several hours of negotiations between the government and the Milosevic camp.

Korac described the desperate attempts to avoid bloodshed in the final hours before Milosevic's arrest and the pressures Milosevic faced.

"Frankly, we made the decision we would storm his house in a few hours," Korac told the BBC, adding that Milosevic was under pressure from members in his Socialist Party.

Korac said he had spoken to people involved in the negotiations.

"He was unbalanced, threatening and showing his gun," Korac said. "He was saying he would kill himself and his family. Eventually he gave up."

Interior Ministry officials were concerned because Milosevic was carrying a specially made gun with 25 bullets.

After police had failed twice in the last two days to arrest Milosevic on local charges of corruption and abuse of power - and staged a failed early-morning assault yesterday at the villa in the upscale Dedinje neighborhood - authorities turned up the verbal heat late yesterday.

"If a state is to survive, no one can remain untouchable," Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said.

"Every individual must bear responsibility according to the law," said Kostunica, the man who replaced Milosevic after a popular uprising last fall. "No man, not even Slobodan Milosevic, is worth a civil conflict and bloodshed."

Milosevic had reportedly said that he would "not be taken to prison alive," Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said earlier yesterday, quoting police who had tried to arrest Milosevic.

At his villa, Milosevic was reportedly surrounded by 20 armed bodyguards, some of whom were described as drunk. Also reported to be with him were his wife, Mirjana Markovic, and their daughter Marija, 32.

Shortly before the arrest, four to five gunshots were heard from inside the villa. Mihajlovic said they were fired by Milosevic's daughter, "who was in a state of distress" when her father was taken away.

The standoff appeared to be a final roll of the dice for a Balkan gambler who survived battlefield defeats and international derision for more than a decade before the people removed him from office with their ballots and their bricks.

Milosevic appeared to be starring in his own Balkan end game as the leaders of the country's fledgling democracy marshaled special police outside the gates of his villa, which sits on a tree-lined street overlooking the drab city center, while hundreds of civilians grouped themselves in pro- and anti-Milosevic camps.

Serbia's new leaders faced international pressure to haul Milosevic into court, with the West's favored destination being the United Nations' International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands, where Milosevic faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The last half of about $100 million in financial assistance from the United States and future loans from international banking institutions were riding on the action because the U.S. Congress set yesterday as the deadline for the Serbs to show they were cooperating with the war crimes tribunal. The Bush administration was monitoring the situation last night.

Serbian authorities intend to try Milosevic locally in what amounts to a two-pronged strategy to discredit him in front of the Serbian people and deflate his supporters, who account for about 20 percent of the vote.

It may seem strange by Western standards to try Milosevic for crimes against the Serbian people, but it may be the only way to bring him to justice.

Authorities have taken Milosevic before a magistrate to face charges that include misusing customs duties, financial irregularities and devastating the Serbian economy.

There was plenty of finger-pointing over the failed arrest early yesterday. The Serbian leadership of Mihajlovic and Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic blamed the army, saying the force obstructed the police and handed the keys to the compound to Milosevic's bodyguard. But the army denied hindering the arrest.

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