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The BBC's Paul Wood in Belgrade
"Mr Milosevic's lawyers are blaming prison conditions for his continued heart problems"
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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Milosevic's life behind bars
Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic: Suicide risk?
By Paul Wood in Belgrade

Lawyers and political supporters of the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic are blaming harsh prison conditions for his apparent heart problems.

But the authorities say the former leader's cell has many extra comforts denied to other inmates and suspect the health issue is being manipulated as part of a legal strategy - the so-called Pinochet defence.

Mr Milosevic's three-by-four metre cell has been nicknamed the Hyatt - after Belgrade's most luxurious hotel.

The Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic told parliament that Serbia's new democratic government wanted to show its "human face" in the treatment of Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr Batic said the former leader would therefore soon be getting a radio and a television installed in the heated cell.

He will also be able to order tea and coffee and is already delivered a selection of daily newspapers.

Loss of luxuries

But after 13 years as the most powerful man in Yugoslavia, life is now a succession of small, daily humiliations for Mr Milosevic.

For instance, according to the Belgrade press, he has to sweep the cell and wash his own plate and plastic knife and fork.

Dinner now is a simple goulash - upon which he has apparently complimented the prison chef.

In a cruel blow, Mr Milosevic has also reportedly been deprived of his favourite Cuban cigars and is now forced to smoke one of the cheaper brands of local cigarettes.

He is judged a suicide risk so he cannot wear his elegant suits because belts and braces are not allowed - his razor is taken away every morning after shaving.

Final farewell?

On the night of his arrest, Mr Milosevic did threaten to kill himself rather than be taken alive, and was - according to eyewitnesses - egged on in this by his daughter, Marija.

Pro Milosevic demonstration
Few Serbs at first wanted Milosevic extradited
The Serbian deputy prime minister, Zarko Korac, who is also a noted psychoanalyst, told me Mr Milosevic uttered several tell-tale sentences of the type psychiatrists call "The Final Farewell".

"You will think differently of me after I am gone," the former President is quoted as saying - one reason why the authorities here take seriously the risk that Mr Milosevic could try to escape justice by taking his own life.

Internal affair

In the domestic courts, Mr Milosevic faces charges of corruption and has apparently been working hard on preparing a defence with his lawyer, Toma Fila, one of the few people allowed to visit.

Faced with allegations of embezzlement, Mr Milosevic's defence is shaping up to be that money diverted from the state budget went not to his own pocket, but to fund Serb nationalist groups in Croatia and Bosnia.

This though is a short term strategy, one which will help Mr Milosevic in the Belgrade courts but which may in the end give the Hague tribunal the legal ammunition it needs to convict Mr Milosevic of command responsibility for war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia

However, in one recent opinion poll carried out in Belgrade shortly after his arrest, only 11% of Serbs thought that Mr Milosevic should be extradited.

Fifty-nine percent thought he should be put on trial at home, while 20% said should not be in prison at all.

Most interestingly, some 18% thought the offence he should be prosecuted for was the "loss of Serb lands" in Croatia and Kosovo.

By and large, most Serbs still think of themselves as victims - and that Mr Milosevic's crimes were crimes against them, not the other peoples of the former Yugoslavia.

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See also:

11 Apr 01 | Europe
Milosevic goes to hospital
10 Apr 01 | Europe
What next for Mira Markovic?
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