Milosevic held in Belgrade prison

Ex-Yugoslav ruler pleads not guilty to corruption charges

`An important step'

April 02, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was ordered detained for 30 days by an investigative judge yesterday as the disgraced dictator faced Serbian justice and a spell in a Belgrade jail after his pre-dawn surrender.

The man who vowed that he wouldn't be arrested alive during a tense two-day standoff with authorities pleaded not guilty to local corruption and abuse-of-power charges and began adjusting to life in his new surroundings.

In a separate wing of the factory-like, four-story central prison, Milosevic has no television, no radio and no workout equipment, his attorney said. But there is hot and cold water, access to reading material and visiting privileges with his family, a perk taken up by Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic.

"This is a Balkan jail. It's not the Hyatt Regency," said Milosevic's attorney, Toma Fila, describing his client's accommodations as a "special cell."

Fila said he will file an appeal tomorrow with a three-judge panel to reverse the order against Milosevic, who could be held for up to six months without a trial as the charges are investigated. "I assume they will reject my complaint," Fila said. "I have 37 years of practice, and I am not naive."

Fila said a doctor found that Milosevic has high blood pressure and prescribed tranquilizers for him but that otherwise, his client was in pretty good shape.

While Serbian officials begin the long process to try Milosevic, the international community also continues to call for him to be extradited to the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands. Milosevic is accused of war crimes for his actions against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. He is also under suspicion about maneuvers in Bosnia and Croatia, sites of the fiercest Balkan wars of the 1990s. It was only when he was reassured that he was being arrested on local charges that Milosevic gave up.

The U.S. Congress said it would freeze the second half of $100 million in aid if Yugoslavia didn't begin to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal by March 31.

President Bush said Milosevic's "arrest represents an important step in bringing to a close the tragic era of his brutal dictatorship."

After more than a decade in power and six months in limbo after the popular uprising in the fall that toppled his government, Milosevic put himself and his country through one last bout of bluster, bullying and brinkmanship before backing down.

Part warped family drama, part national saga, Milosevic's surrender came after a failed police assault and a tense standoff that some thought might turn bloody.

It also contained a Keystone Kops-type element at the outset, with authorities staging a "sham arrest," complete with convoy but no Milosevic, to get the news media and onlookers away from the villa where Milosevic was staying.

The plan fooled some, but Milosevic and his allies rallied when the army left the compound through tunnels and left behind their weapons, as Milosevic's bodyguards took up positions.

Officials said Milosevic's guards were armed with rocket launchers, sniper rifles, submachine guns and hand grenades.

Splits in Yugoslavia's government, military and police were obvious. But when faced with the specter of Milosevic flouting authority, the country's squabbling democratic leaders came together behind Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Pressure mounted on the former dictator as his crowds of supporters disappeared in the night and police prepared to storm the villa, assembling riot squads and a hooded assault unit.

Packing a gun with a 25-bullet clip and threatening to kill himself, his wife and daughter, Marija, Milosevic was hardly the picture of a cool leader in the final hours when his team was negotiating with Cedomir Jovanovic, a spokesman for the Democratic Opposition of Serbia.

"I have 25 bullets," witnesses heard Milosevic mutter as he sprawled on the white living-room sofa and cradled his chrome-plated Crvena Zastava pistol. "Twenty are for the assailants - the rest for my family and me."

"He was defiant. His wife and daughter were equally defiant," a Western diplomat said. "There was a lot of potential for a real bloody confrontation."

The key meeting that seemed to resolve the dispute occurred between 3:15 a.m. and 3:45 a.m. yesterday, when Milosevic's attorney, Fila, showed up at the villa and the former leader was reassured that he wasn't being arrested to be sent to The Hague.

Milosevic surrendered - but not without some final fireworks.

Grabbing a small gun tucked in her bra, his distressed daughter screamed at three masked police officers to back off as they took her father by his arms and hustled him outside to a parked Audi with tinted windows. Shaking and swaying, she squeezed off five shots toward a police officer as the motorcade sped off. No one was wounded.

"It's out of the question to shed the Serbian blood once again, and that's why he decided to turn himself in," Fila said.

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