Slobo's Hopes of Freedom Fade

Prison life and the threat of extradition are taking their toll on the former president

Slobo's Hopes of Freedom Fade

Prison life and the threat of extradition are taking their toll on the former president

Milosevic's family, friends, lawyers and colleagues are in and out of Belgrade Central Prison, in an effort to raise the spirits of the former president. But last week, Milosevic suffered a setback. He lost an important ally: his guard and confidant Milorad Savic.

Savic joined the prison service twenty years ago. It was his life's ambition to get to the top of his chosen profession. His promotion to guard shift supervisor came at an auspicious time - just days before Milosevic's arrest.

Savic's reputation among his colleagues grew when he became the ex-president's warder. As hopes for Milosevic's freedom bids diminished, Savic - known as 'Tomcat' to his friends - took sympathy on the man and moved into a cell next door.

They became friends: Milosevic waking him up in the middle of the night for a chat, Savic walking with him a couple of hours a day.

But in response to a demonstration of support for Milosevic outside the prison, the authorities decided to remove Savic and replace him with new warders who will be regularly rotated to avoid any more friendships developing within the prison walls.

Savic was just one of a growing entourage pepping up the former president as he tries every means at his disposal to fight those who want to see him locked up permanently.

Milosevic, despite ill-health, has been working hard on his freedom campaign. Prison rules don't really seem to apply to him.

The executive board of the Serbian Socialist Party, SPS, has all but moved into Central Prison. They are organising demonstrations, means of raising money for their campaign. Top party officials Branislav Ivkovic, Zivorad Igic and Ivica Dacic are regularly popping in and out for chats.

"The biggest political decisions in the SPS are now being made together at Milosevic's place," said an IWPR source inside the prison. "It seems that he is still active although he is politically dead. He still wields influence on his associates and plans the SPS strategy in the meetings."

Apart from engaging in party meetings, he has been hard at work on strengthening his own legal team. With the help of his wife Mirjana Markovic he has hired nine lawyers to join Toma Fila on developing his defense. "Milosevic's case has acquired an additional political dimension," said Toma Fila.

One of those lawyers Veselin Cerovic told IWPR that Milosevic believes his trial is being staged for others' political interests. "He feels like a prisoner of NATO, and sees himself as the leader of the resistance movement against NATO domination."

According to Cerovic, Milosevic feels that "his people" will not be duped by "foreign political interests". "He feels innocent and his conscience is clear," said the lawyer.

Zdenko Tomanovic, another member of his legal counsel, says The Hague indictment has been wedged between the bars of his cell since the day it was delivered to him.

Tribunal aside, investigations into allegations of financial fraud against Milosevic were completed on June 18. The Belgrade district prosecutor has 15 days to issue an indictment against him and three others on charges of stealing 197 million German marks from state coffers.

His defence council offered to pay bail from the sale of his house. Not unsurprisingly this was turned down. Now SPS supporters are attempting to raise funds for a successful bail offer.

Tomanovic told the Belgrade daily Blic on June 22 that his team would now be prepared to stand 250 million marks bail, apparently a sum equal to the value of SPS property.

Public support has been evident, if slim. Last weekend, some 5,000 Milosevic supporters rallied in downtown Belgrade and marched to the prison chanting slogans demanding their leader's release.

Zivorad Igic told IWPR that his party was preparing new protests, focussing their attentions on the visit of Hague Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, the date of which will be set pending the outcome of a battle over an extradition bill.

The proposed Law on Extradition will pave the way for his transfer to the tribunal.

Opposition to the bill comes primarily from the Montenegrin Socialist People's Party, SNP, whose votes are needed if the bill is to pass through federal parliament. But Montenegrin objections could well be side-stepped if, as seems possible, President Kostunica by-passes the federal parliament.

Preparing for the worst, Milosevic is developing his defence should a Hague trial go ahead. Using his tried and tested strategy, that attack is the best form of defence, he is threatening to shift all blame for any charges levelled against him on the international community.

He is apparently preparing to reveal the contents of secret talks he had with certain Western leaders at key moments in the Balkan conflict.

Though the district prosecutor's decision on the financial indictment is due July 1, it is expected that he will be extradited before then.

All these events play out against increasing concerns over the former president's physical and mental health.

His defence team is working on his transfer to a military hospital for what they say is a serious heart condition. What is known is that Milosevic is taking medication for high blood pressure, though he shies from any intravenous treatment.

He is also, according to sources, suffering from one of his bouts of severe depression. They say he is growing more and more melancholic by the day. Igic, though, told IWPR this was not true. "I visited him some ten days ago, and the president is firm and strong," he said.

Meanwhile, Milosevic receives daily visits from his wife, who brings him home made food. On June 19, he was visited for the first time by his daughter-in-law and two-year-old grandson Marko, which apparently put him in high spirits.

Dan Ilic is the pseudonym for a Belgrade based journalist

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