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Milosevic's death haunts U.N.'s del Ponte

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - United Nations war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte said on Tuesday she was haunted by the quiet and sudden death of Slobodan Milosevic before he was sentenced.

Her comments highlighted her frustration that the former Serbian president died in custody before a verdict could be pronounced on charges blaming him and his policies for many violent deaths during the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s.

“My problem is that he died like an angel. He went to sleep one night and simply didn’t wake up one morning,” del Ponte, who is due to end her term in September, told the European Parliament. “I have a problem with my God about that.”

Milosevic’s unfinished trial dominated del Ponte’s eight years at The Hague war crimes tribunal.

He was found dead of heart failure in his cell at the war crimes tribunal prison before a verdict could be passed on 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

While Western leaders bemoan the fact that he was not convicted, his hardline supporters still talk about his “murder” in detention.

Asked by a European lawmaker whether she considered death by heart failure an enviable death, she replied that she was merely expressing a personal opinion.

Del Ponte has made no secret of her fascination with Milosevic’s performance defending himself in court and expressed admiration for his skill in cross-examining witnesses.

But she said the episode showed the court should review arrangements for such self-defenses, noting they allowed the defendant to amass large teams of advisers and potentially disrupt proceedings.

She said Milosevic used his contacts with the outside world to smuggle in drugs to counteract medicine he was receiving to lower his blood pressure in a bid to halt his trial for health reasons.

“He knew he was harming himself but he did it anyway,” she said.