Milosevic's visits lightly monitored

Those who met with him about his case were searched less aggressively, officials say

March 15, 2006|By SEBASTIAN ROTELLA AND ALISSA J. RUBIN | SEBASTIAN ROTELLA AND ALISSA J. RUBIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Officials of the U.N. war crimes tribunal said yesterday that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was allowed access in detention to some visitors with only minimal surveillance and searches.

The limited scrutiny of those visits could have provided an opportunity for Milosevic to obtain the drug Rifampicin, which was found in his blood and might have contributed to his death.

Because Milosevic chose to represent himself before the tribunal, he was given the right to meet with his legal advisers, diplomatic officials or prospective trial witnesses in a workspace which was only lightly monitored, said officials at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Visitors who came to see Milosevic in connection with his case were treated with more deference than other visitors and were searched less aggressively.

"A principle of justice is that the defense needs to be able to conduct interviews in a privileged setting," said tribunal spokeswoman Alexandra Milenov. "Otherwise, there could be a perception of unfairness or abuse."

Milosevic was charged with genocide and war crimes for his role in orchestrating the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and led to the deaths of more than 225,000 people.

The former Serbian leader, who was taking medication for high blood pressure and heart troubles, was found dead in his cell Saturday, an apparent victim of a heart attack.

Traces of Rifampicin, a powerful antibiotic, were found by doctors in Milosevic's blood this year and again in the autopsy. Rifampicin causes other drugs to break down more rapidly in the liver, rendering them less effective.

On Monday, a toxicologist who had tested Milosevic's blood theorized that he had taken Rifampicin in an effort to make himself sicker so that he could convince officials to let him leave the Netherlands to seek treatment in Moscow.

"I think that was his last possibility to escape The Hague," toxicologist Donald Uges of Groningen University told reporters.

Milosevic's son and other supporters have insisted that he was poisoned while in custody.

"He got killed. He didn't die. He got killed. There's a murder," Marko Milosevic said yesterday in an interview with AP Television News aboard a flight to the Netherlands to claim his father's body.

Hague officials made no accusations against Milosevic's visitors but left the implication that one of those visitors could have brought Milosevic a drug.

According to the Associated Press, the warden of the prison in which Milosevic was being held had previously told officials of the tribunal that he could not guarantee Milosevic's health. The warden cited the fact that drugs and alcohol had been found in his cell, and said it was difficult to monitor him because of his relative freedom to move around the prison to go to his office and the visitors' area.

Milosevic was jailed in a former Dutch prison in the Scheveningen suburb of The Hague. The detention facility is staffed by guards who work for the United Nations.

Milosevic's visiting privileges were governed by different sets of rules for personal visits and meetings to prepare his legal defense, Milenov said.

Sebastian Rotella and Alissa J. Rubin write for the Los Angeles Times.

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