Dozens Pay Respects at Milosevic's Grave, 10 Years on

Supporters of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic paid their respects at his grave Friday, 10 years after he died in The Hague where he was on trial for war crimes.

Known as the "Butcher of the Balkans", Milosevic fueled ethnic conflict and mass murder in the former Yugoslavia during his 13 years of iron rule, defying international sanctions and NATO bombs.

He was found dead in his cell in 2006 at the age of 64, unmoved until the end by charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Despite being ousted as president by a popular uprising in 2000, Milosevic remains a hero to some Serbians, including dozens who braved heavy rain on Friday to visit his grave in his family garden in the eastern city of Pozarevac.

"Without him, the Serbs have nothing. He at least saved what we have today," said 86-year-old Milan Stojanovic, struggling to walk with a cane, as rain ran down his face.

Some visitors stroked the white bust of Milosevic atop his grave, while others crossed themselves and stayed for a moment of silence in front of the tomb, which was laden with flowers.

"At least he was fighting for Serbia. Those in power after him have reduced us to slavery," said Ana Petrovic, 58, who said she visits the grave every year.

Milosevic was the first former head of state to appear before an international criminal court and faced life in jail if convicted.

But he portrayed himself as a besieged statesman who struggled to keep the crumbling Yugoslav federation intact against separatists and "terrorists".

Among those who paid respects at his grave was Serbia's Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin, one of several current government members who were previously allied with Milosevic.

Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, leader of the Socialist Party founded by Milosevic, described the late leader as "one of the most iconic political figures of the late twentieth century" in an article in the Vecernje Novosti newspaper.

Another visitor at the grave was ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj, whose verdict in a war crimes trial at the ICTY is due at the end of March -- a judgment he refuses to attend after being released for medical treatment.

The Balkan wars left more than 130,000 dead and displaced millions.

Milosevic was arrested at his home in Belgrade in 2001 and was subsequently transferred to the court in The Hague.

His trial began in 2002, with a defiant Milosevic defending himself, but it was frequently interrupted owing to illness sparked by high blood pressure and heart problems.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told AFP on Friday that Milosevic's "unexpected" death before a verdict was "really a regret".

"Of course, nobody can be happy with this outcome starting with the victims' organizations and victims who really wanted his personal responsibility formalized in a judgment," Brammertz said.

He hoped a verdict due later in March for former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the most important person to be prosecuted after Milosevic, "will have a positive impact in that regard".

Source: Agence France Presse

Copyright © 2012 All Rights Reserved.