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Milosevic a Divisive Figure Even in Death

March 12, 2006

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) _ The circumstances of Slobodan Milosevic’s death _ like the actions he took during his life _ triggered divisions throughout the Balkans.

In his homeland, Serbia, Milosevic’s supporters hailed their late leader as a Serb hero driven to an early death by the U.N. war crimes tribunal. In the rest of the Balkans, victims of Milosevic’s warmongering said some justice was served with his death while in U.N. detention.

``Finally, we have some reason to smile. God is fair,″ said Hajra Catic, who leads an association of women who lost their loved ones in the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims by Serb troops in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

In Kosovo, Veton Surroi, an ethnic Albanian leader who testified against Milosevic at his trial in The Hague, said he regretted Milosevic did not live longer.

``I wish he lived 100 years and spent all those years in prison living with the memory of all the victims caused by his wars,″ he said.

Milosevic, who suffered chronic heart trouble and high blood pressure, was found dead in bed at the detention center. He apparently died of natural causes, a tribunal press officer said.

Officials and citizens of Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo also expressed regret that the former Yugoslav and Serbian president did not live to be convicted and sentenced for genocide and the other war crimes listed in his tribunal indictment.

But the president of the Serb-held part of Bosnia, Dragan Cavic, said a ``historic person has left the scene, a person who was disputed, criticized and praised.″

``This is an end to an era, but what has not ended is the court case, and that will have its consequences,″ Cavic added. ``We’ll never get the answer from The Hague of his guilt or innocence.″

Liberals and Milosevic’s opponents in Serbia agreed, but Milosevic’s nationalist supporters were quick to portray him as the victim of a Western conspiracy, blaming the U.N. court and its alleged poor care of Milosevic in the detention, for his death.

``Milosevic did not die in The Hague; he was killed in The Hague,″ declared Ivica Dacic, a senior official in Milosevic’s Socialist Party.

Tomislav Nikolic, a Milosevic aide and the leader of an increasingly popular nationalist Serbian Radical Party, added that ``direct blame″ for Milosevic’s death lies with the U.N. court. ``They knew very well that he was ill.″

Nikolic’s party later said in a statement that ``nothing will be the same″ in Serbia.

Serbia-Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic said in a statement that Milosevic’s death presented a ``huge moral challenge″ for the U.N. court. Marovic added that ``with his death, history will be deprived of full truth.″

Serbian broadcasters interrupted their programs Saturday to report news of the death, and state-run television aired only classical music between newscasts.

Some citizens seemed bewildered by the news.

``I don’t know what to think. I hated him but this will turn him into a martyr,″ said Bogdan Curcic, a 35-year-old engineer.

Ljiljana Simovic, 77, however, had no dilemma: ``This is definitely good news: Now we got rid of him once and for all.″

Azer Kurtovic, a 43-year-old mechanical engineer from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, compared Milosevic’s death to Adolf Hitler’s suicide at the end of World War II.

``That’s not fair,″ he said. ``Evil men like them should pay for their deeds.″

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