Milosevic's body returned to Serbia

A few hundred greet ex-president

March 16, 2006|By ALISSA J. RUBIN | ALISSA J. RUBIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro -- The coffin slid down the luggage conveyor after a baby carriage, several large cartons and suitcases as a few friends gathered on the runway under a fine snow yesterday to welcome home the body of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The coffin was draped with the Serbian flag and put into a rented hearse for the trip to a state hospital morgue where the body would be held overnight.

Milosevic will be buried Saturday in his hometown of Pozarevac.

A few hundred supporters, many of them elderly, gathered on the road leading from the airport to Belgrade. A few chanted briefly "Slobo the hero" and threw red roses, the symbol of the Socialist Party he once led.

It seemed a forlorn moment for the man whose party used to turn out hundreds of thousands to cheer him. Yesterday, there were no dignitaries on hand. The rented hearse, with company name and phone numbers on the back, underscored that official Serbia had all but disowned the war crimes suspect.

An effort by the Socialist Party to have Milosevic's body lie in state for two days at the Museum of the Revolution was declined by Dragan Kojadinovic, Serbia's minister of culture, who said exhibits of Iranian clothes and Chinese coins fill the museum.

A fight is going on about where to put the body for the two days of mourning before the burial.

Milosevic was found dead Saturday in the United Nations detention center at The Hague, where he was on trial before the International Court for the Former Yugoslavia on charges of genocide and war crimes. His case was officially closed Tuesday. Milosevic was alleged to have orchestrated the Balkan wars of the 1990s that raged across Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia and Kosovo, killing more than 225,000 people.

Preliminary autopsy results showed that he died of heart failure, but questions lingered about the exact circumstances of his death. Those questions include whether the looser security rules that applied to him because he was preparing his own defense might have enabled visitors to smuggle in drugs that were not prescribed by Hague doctors.

Traces of a powerful antibiotic that could negate the effect of other drugs, including beta blockers and other heart medicine that Milosevic was taking, were found in his system. The results of a toxicological examination are expected this week.

Pathologists in Serbia are performing a second autopsy because of suspicions among Serbs that he was a victim of foul play.

After five days of sometimes near-farcical arguments among members of the Milosevic family and also between the family, party leaders and the Serbian government, a compromise was reached to allow his widow to return to Serbia so Milosevic could be buried here. It remained uncertain yesterday whether his wife, Mira Markovic, who lives in Moscow, and son, Marko, would come to the funeral.

She faces corruption charges in Serbia. A Belgrade court agreed to suspend the charges so she would not be arrested if she entered the country for the funeral but ordered that her passport be taken to ensure that she appears in court for a hearing March 23.

Marko Milosevic, who is alleged to have cheated Balkan mafia rings involved in cigarette smuggling, is thought to be in danger of being killed if he comes to Serbia.

The decision to have Milosevic buried at home was driven in part by members of the Socialist Party in an effort to forge a myth about Milosevic that reminded people of Josip Broz, known as Tito, the communist era's most beloved modern politician. Tito helped forge the former Yugoslavia out of the wreckage of World War II and he is buried in the garden of his Belgrade home.

To Milosevic's many victims, the efforts to give him dignity in death and turn him into a martyr seemed like an insult.

"We talk about the dignity of the funeral and this is the man who killed his predecessor and buried him standing, covered in lime in the forest," said Branka Prpa, widow of Slavko Curuvija, a newspaper editor who Milosevic allegedly ordered killed during the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 2001.

Alissa J. Rubin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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