Court to shed light on Milosevic’s death

The United Nations war crimes tribunal was expected on Friday to reveal findings of a forensic analysis carried out to determine whether any poisons were present in Slobodan Milosevic’s body when he died in its custody. The development is eagerly awaited, notably by many supporters of the late Yugoslav president, who have voiced strong suspicions that his heart attack last Saturday was the result of poisoning.

At a news conference on Friday, the tribunal that tried Milosevic for war crimes for more than four years is expected to provide details of a toxicological analysis done by the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) in conjunction with the autopsy it carried out last Sunday.

The NFI website says that a toxicological investigation is called for “if after an autopsy the cause of death remains unknown and one has to take into account the possibility of poisoning”.

Milosevic’s sudden death in his UN prison cell on Saturday sparked lurid headlines in his native Serbia and in Russia charging that the late Serb nationalist had been “murdered”.

The late strongman himself, in a letter he wrote to the Russian government shortly before he died, alleged “active, wilful steps taken to destroy my health throughout the proceedings of the trial”.

Moscow sent a team of doctors to The Hague to scrutinise the autopsy — in which Serbian experts took part — which endorsed the findings.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) suspect that Milosevic took a fatal gamble by secretly using a drug that he knew would counter the medication he was taking for his heart condition.

They think Milosevic deliberately compromised his health in the hope of obtaining permission to seek treatment in Russia where he could possibly find shelter and never return to The Hague.

The powerful antibiotic rifampicin, which is known to counter the effects of other medications, was found in Milosevic’s blood in recent months.

Dutch toxicologist Donald Uges, who carried out blood tests on behalf of Milosevic’s Dutch doctors to find out why he was not responding to blood-pressure medication, alleged on Monday that he took the drug “because he wanted a one-way ticket to Moscow”.

The chemical examination usually tests blood and urine “for the presence of foreign substances [foreign to the body], but hair and tissue can also be tested,” the NFI website says.

Even if the toxicological analysis confirms the presence of rifampicin, or any other suspicious substance, the question will remain as to how the drug got into Milosevic’s system.

Although he had private doctors, it is not clear exactly how he would have obtained such drugs while in detention.

Dutch authorities have opened a formal inquest into the death, and the ICTY is conducting an internal investigation.

The ICTY ordered on Thursday that both probes will have full access to all documents pertaining to Milosevic’s death, including confidential medical records. — AFP

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Gina Doggett
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