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Autopsy Performed on Milosevic's Remains

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

An autopsy will be performed today on the body of Slobodan Milosevic, and a Serbian pathologist will be present. The 64-year-old former Serbian leader was found dead this weekend in his prison cell in The Hague, where he was on trial for war crimes. Milosevic is the man most responsible for the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia that claimed some 200,000 lives and created 3 million refugees. His unexpected death is raising questions about the tribunal's of handling of the first war crimes trial of a former head of state.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is on the line to tell us more. First, Sylvia, this is really the first experiment in international justice since the Second World War. What are the lessons that are being learned here?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Well, this incredibly long trial, it had just entered its fifth year, seems to confirm the old saying, Justice delayed is justice denied. Hundreds of witnesses testified. Tens of thousands of documents were filed. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent, but Milosevic will go down in history without having been found guilty of anything. And many analysts are critical of how the prosecution handled this case.

They point out that the Nuremberg trials took less than a year to try, convict and sentence and hang the ten top Nazi defendants after World War II. Critics say prosecutors filed too many charges against Milosevic, lumping together all three wars, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. They say the cases should have been more narrowly focused, each involving specific atrocities; then there would have been a verdict long ago.

Critics also say Milosevic should not have been allowed to handle his own defense in which he set his timetable and his political agenda. Today at The Hague, the Chief Prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, strongly defended herself, saying the trial was correctly handled. I have to say she also did not rule out that Milosevic might have committed suicide.

HANSEN: What kind of reaction are you hearing from the Serbs?

POGGIOLI: Well, Milosevic is proving as divisive in death as he was in life. Some people I spoke to in Belgrade could not help but express relief and hope that this marks the end of a very, very bleak chapter of history and will make it easier for Serbia to move forward and end its international isolation. But Milosevic's death in The Hague could make him into a martyr and boost extreme nationalist sentiments.

Just a week ago, another former Serb leader, Milan Bobich(ph), killed himself in his prison cell in The Hague, and these two deaths could strengthen the conviction of many Serbs that the tribunal is anti-Serb, a place to lock Serbs up and throw away the key. Milosevic was sick with all sorts of heart problems, but the tribunal rejected his request to go to Russia for specialist medical treatment, and already one of his lawyers said his client told them he believed he was being poisoned in his cell.

So hard-liners could use these rumors to put pressure on the government not to extradite remaining fugitive war criminals like Rocco Modich(ph) and Radavan Kadavich(ph).

HANSEN: Of course the autopsy will be performed today, but what do you know now about the funeral arrangements?

POGGIOLI: We don't know anything yet. Serb hard-liners say he should be buried in the National Heroes Cemetery in Serbia. His wife and son Michael live in Russia, and both of them are wanted on charges of corruption in Serbia, so they could be arrested if they were to travel there, and they may prefer to have him buried in Russia.

HANSEN: This was your story from, you know, beginning until now. What's the lasting memory you carry about Milosevic?

POGGIOLI: Well, I have several memories of the man. I remember seeing him playing the tough bulldog as he addressed throngs of tens of thousands of adoring Serb nationalists at mass rallies, or when he played statesman and peacemaker in the international negotiations. One image of Milosevic that stands out is his intense relationship with his very odd wife and childhood sweetheart, Mirjana. They were a couple from Belgrade wags described as the Adams Family.

I think the image that most captured Milosevic's true essence of bureaucratic coldness and lack of charisma was created by the cartoonist, Kotox(ph), who drew Milosevic's face as a while blob with no eyes, a man who never looked at what was happening around him because he was always looking at himself.

HANSEN: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Sylvia, thanks a lot.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.