Milosevic Fearful of Retribution

Deposed president Slobodan Milosevic has become a virtual prisoner in his own home.

Milosevic Fearful of Retribution

Deposed president Slobodan Milosevic has become a virtual prisoner in his own home.

A couple of days after Slobodan Milosevic's fall, a group of several hundred students, mostly members of the Otpor (Resistance) movement, paid him a visit.

Huge speakers mounted on lorries blared out deafening techno music, as the students danced their way to Milosevic's home in Uzicka Street, Dedinje - the up-market suburb dubbed the 'forbidden city' by the opposition. They were stopped several hundred meters away from the former president's villa by a cordon of special branch police forces.

The students did not know it at the time, but their approach sent Milosevic into a panic. Such was his concern that he telephoned the army chief of staff to find out whether he was still entitled to protection.

Milosevic's villa, one of Tito's residences, is protected by scores of policemen and members of the state security service. Other special units are deployed close by, ready to evacuate him at the first sign of danger.

Such is Milosevic's concern for his safety that during a recent meeting with Kostunica to ostensibly discuss the future of Kosovo and other state matters, the former Yugoslav president sought security guarantees from his successor, according to DOS sources.

Milosevic lives like a recluse. He keeps in touch with a handful of his closest allies. Frequent visitors include former deputy president of the federal government, Nikola Sainovic, who like Milosevic has been indicted by The Hague, as well as Zoran Andjelkovic, deputy SPS president.

But such visits are rare as most of the SPS top brass have gone to ground. Two of Milosevic's leading henchmen Gorica Gajevic and Dragan Tomic have not appeared in public in weeks.

The former Balkan strongman and his acolytes have good reason to be scared.

The former president's policies over the last decade led to widespread misery and hardship, leaving many feeling bitter and vengeful. Most Serbs would like to see him prosecuted for the suffering he caused them, but there are undoubtedly those who would like to take the matter into their own hands.

Those who suffered at the hands of Milosevic's forces during the Yugoslav wars are probably also out for revenge. "Any Bosnian who kills him would become a national hero," a senior official of Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, told IWPR. Other potential assassins include former associates who fear he may testify against them should he ever be extradited to the international war crimes tribunal.

Milosevic's fears have probably been heightened both by repeated DOS demands for the security cordon around the former president's home to be removed and the new government's conflicting signals over his possible extradition to The Hague.

Increasingly, Serbian public opinion is coming to the conclusion that Milosevic should be held responsible for the atrocities committed during the wars. However, it seems the authorities have still to make up their mind.

Kostunica has expressed his willingness to co-operate with The Hague "to the extent that our laws allow and in a way that does not insult our national dignity". In a commentary published last Saturday in Belgrade's daily Glas javnosti, the Yugoslav president pointed to constitutional obstacles that stand in the way of extraditing war crime suspects to The Hague.

However, his federal justice minister Momcilo Grubac contradicted him later saying that the constitutional ban does not apply since the international tribunal is a United Nations body. And Kostunica himself appeared to suggest that his position is shifting as he has agreed to meet The Hague court's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte.

But while the authorities waver over Milosevic's ultimate fate, they appear determined to make his life as uncomfortable as possible.

Milosevic recently undertook major building work on his house in Dedinje. He bought it for next to nothing during the hyper inflation of 1993, while he was at the height of his power.

When the municipality inspectors noticed that he hadn't bothered applying for building permission, they dropped round, flanked by a bevy of journalists, to find out why. The incident was a media sensation.

To the outside world, it may have appeared like a pathetic attempt to prosecute Milosevic, but the very fact that he was being brought to account for something as banal as contravening building regulations is a remarkable thing in Serbia.

Milosevic is also having to endure other setbacks. The Chinese authorities refused his son a visa, his brother lost his job as Yugoslav ambassador in Moscow and The Hague tribunal has launched an investigation into his financial affairs.

All this will have undoubtedly been humiliating for a man who until recently thought himself invincible.

Dragana Nikolic is a regular IWPR contributor

Serbia, Kosovo
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