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War crimes prosecutor defends Milosevic trial as autopsy results awaited

[JURIST] Hague war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte [BBC profile] Sunday defended the over four year long trial of Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive] before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [official website], saying that although his sudden death in jail [JURIST report] Saturday "deprives the victims of the justice they need and deserve" and it was "a great pity ... that the trial will not be completed", the proceeding had nonetheless put critical evidence on the record. "During the prosecution case," she said in a statement [text] delivered at the start of a news conference [recorded video], "295 witnesses testified and 5000 exhibits were presented to the court. This represents a wealth of evidence...". Responding to criticism that the trial might have been too long, she later observed:

Of course it is possible to say let's accuse him only for the most important crimes -- those where we can faster obtain a verdict...But my view is that it is not only a question of convictions and sentencing, it is also a question of truth -- of facts and truth. It is important for the victims particularly that they have full knowledge of what happened.
Milosevic had, she noted, been "accused of 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo between 1991 and 1999. These crimes affected hundreds of thousands of victims throughout the former Yugoslavia."

In her statement del Ponte also emphasized that despite its length, the trial had almost reached its conclusion when Milosevic died: "There were in total 466 hearing days. 4 hours per day. Only 40 hours were left in the Defense case, and the trial was likely to be completed by the end of the spring." Reuters has more.

Asked by reporters about whether Milosevic might have committed suicide, she said that of course that was possible, but she awaited initial autopsy results expected Sunday or Monday, with toxicology reports - potentially addressing the possibility of drugging or poisoning [Reuters report] raised by Milosevic lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic based on recent Milosevic statements and a letter disclosed Sunday - to follow later. Reuters has more.

In a separate statement Sunday, ICTY President Judge Fausto Pocar said it was "extremely unfortunate that the victims and their families will not have a final answer in this case on the criminal responsibility of the accused". He also explained the state of the autopsy proceedings:
According to the Tribunal’s Rules of Detention, the authorities of the host state of the Netherlands, are conducting an inquest, pursuant to their law. A Dutch forensic team, including coroners carried out an examination of Slobodan Milosevic and his cell yesterday. Because the Dutch coroners who examined Slobodan Milosevic were unable to establish a cause of death, an autopsy was ordered without delay, as required under Dutch law. The autopsy will take place in the course of today. The Registrar has requested that a full report of the Dutch authorities’ investigation be forwarded to the Tribunal as quickly as possible.

Pursuant to a request from the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro, and in concurrence with the Dutch authorities conducting the investigation, the Registrar agreed to have senior pathologists selected by the government of Serbia and Montenegro observe the autopsy.
Read the full text of Pocar's statement from the ICTY.

1:58 PM ET - Dutch state broadcaster NOS, citing unidentified sources, is reporting on its website [text, in Dutch] that traces of drugs used to treat leprosy and tuberculosis were found in Milosevic's system in a blood test taken between November and January, and that those drugs could have neutralized the effect of his blood pressure medication. Milosevic lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic has said that in a letter written by Milosevic on Friday to the Russian embassy he claimed he was being poisoned and had been given the wrong drugs, including drugs for leprosy. Reuters has more. Russian doctors at the Moscow Bakulev Cardio-Vascular Surgery Center where Milosevic wanted to go for medical treatment have meanwhile said they suspect that Milosevic was spitting out the pills he was being given, and that the doctors at The Hague "carried out tests to check for the presence of the medicine in his bloodstream because they thought that he was hiding it in his cheeks." Reuters has more.

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