Friend declares Milosevic swore he'd never self-medicate or poison himself

One of Slobodan Milosevic's closest friends compounded the mystery surrounding ex-president's death with claims Wednesday that the late leader told him the day before he died he would "never dream of self-medicating or poisoning himself to take his own life."

Momir Bulatovic, then-Yugoslavia's prime minister from 1998-2000, spent the three last days of Milosevic's life with him at his detention cell in the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands.

The two close friends and political allies for over 10 years were preparing for Bulatovic's upcoming testimony as a defense witness in the war crimes and genocide case against Milosevic.

Bulatovic said Milosevic was confident the testimony would "clinch his defense with irrefutable evidence" that the 1990s Yugoslav bloodletting was "not a criminal enterprise orchestrated by Milosevic but a chain of irreversible events" that tore apart the former federation.

Milosevic started prepping Bulatovic on Wednesday. The two went over thousands of pages for 18 hours, working through late Friday, when Milosevic said he was too tired and would use the weekend to rest before continuing Monday, Bulatovic said.

But Milosevic was found dead in his bed Saturday morning. An autopsy by Dutch forensic experts determined he died from a massive heart attack. A Dutch toxicologist later said he had found traces of an unprescribed drug in Milosevic's blood earlier this year.

The drug, rifampicin, an antibiotic used to treat leprosy and tuberculosis, reduced the effectiveness of other medications, such as heart and blood pressure medicine Milosevic was taking.

The revelations along with a letter written by Milosevic in which the late ex-leader pleads for Moscow's help, claiming he was being poisoned by the tribunal set off a swirl of speculation about foul play.

After a Jan. 12 examination, Dutch doctors had said Milosevic likely was taking another drug to counteract his blood pressure medication.

But Milosevic, who asked the court in December for permission to be released to travel to Russia for treatment, contested the doctors' opinion and asked for more sophisticated tests.

On their last day together, Bulatovic said Milosevic had received the Jan. 12 lab results and told Bulatovic he was "worried about this rifampicin."

"He said, repeatedly, that he would never dream of self-medicating or administering poison to take his life," Bulatovic said. "He said that would be absurd ... He suspected he was being poisoned."

Bulatovic recounted how Milosevic was "obviously very tired and had great difficulties in concentrating" as they worked.

"He called ... an assistant appointed by the tribunal ... demanding something be done about his lab results, but the tribunal did nothing," Bulatovic said.

Bulatovic also denied that he or any other Milosevic aide could have smuggled unprescribed medication to him. "You get searched three times when you go in. It would be impossible."

"When we broke up work Friday, he was exhausted but satisfied," Bulatovic also told reporters. "He fought to the end, to his last breath, and that is not the frame of mind of someone who would take his own life."

"The responsibility for what happened lies with the tribunal. They failed to react timely and appropriately," Bulatovic said. "If he had been in a hospital, as he should have, he would be alive today", reports the AP.

D.M.

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