BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro – Former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's death while imprisoned on war crimes charges drew mixed feelings Saturday in the region that he pushed into war more than a decade ago.
In Milosevic's homeland, Serbia, the former president's supporters declared his death a "huge loss" for the Balkan country and its people, and blamed it on the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, where he was being tried for genocide.
However, in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, which were ravaged by the conflicts masterminded and fueled by Milosevic, officials and ordinary citizens alike said his death brought some justice to the victims.
"Finally, we have some reason to smile, God is fair," said Hajra Catic, who heads an association of women that lost their loved ones in the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Srebrenica Muslims by the Serb troops.
Catic and other victims of a decade of bloodshed under Milosevic's rule also expressed regret that he did not live to be convicted and sentenced for genocide and other war crimes listed in his Hague tribunal indictment.
"It is a pity he didn't live to the end of the trial to get the sentence he deserved," Croatian President Stipe Mesic said.
In Belgrade, Milosevic's supporters mourned the death of their former boss.
"Milosevic did not die in The Hague, he was killed in The Hague," said Ivica Dacic, a senior official in Milosevic's Socialist Party. "But, he had managed to defend the national and state interests of Serbia and the Serb people, and everybody should be grateful to him for that."
Milosevic had asked the court in December to let him go to Moscow for treatment. But the tribunal refused, despite assurances from Russia that Milosevic would return to finish his trial. He had been examined by doctors following frequent complaints of fatigue or ill health that delayed his trial, but the tribunal could not immediately say when he last had a medical checkup.
Tomislav Nikolic, a Milosevic aide and the leader of an increasingly popular nationalist Serbian Radical Party, said "direct blame" for Milosevic's death lies with the U.N. court. "They knew very well that he was ill."
Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who faces immense international pressure to hand over the remaining war crimes suspects to the tribunal, had no immediate comment.
President Boris Tadic expressed condolences to Milosevic's family and his Socialist Party.
But the justice minister said Milosevic's death showed that war crimes suspects at The Hague did not receive proper medical care. "Milosevic's death has shaken me as a person," Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic said.
Serbian media all interrupted their programs Saturday to report about Milosevic's death, while the state-run television began airing only classical music in between the news.
"I don't know what to think," said Bogdan Curcic, a 35-year-old engineer. "I hated him, but this will turn him into a martyr."
In Kosovo, Veton Surroi, an ethnic Albanian leader who had testified against Milosevic, said he regretted Milosevic did not live long enough.
"I wish he lived 100 years and spend all those years in prison living with the memory of all the victims caused by his wars," Surroi said.
The United Nations has administered the province since 1999, after NATO launched air attacks to stop a crackdown on independence-minded ethnic Albanians by Milosevic's Serb forces.
"Justice was late," said Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the ethnic Albanian rebel troops during the war. "God took him."
Azer Kurtovic, a 43-year-old mechanical engineer from the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, compared Milosevic's death to Adolf Hitler's suicide at the end of World War II.
"That's not fair," he said. "Evil men like them should pay for their deeds."