Milosevic launches a purge of his party from behind prison bars

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The Independent Online

The former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is purging his Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) of enemies from behind the bars of his cell in the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

A tape recording of Mr Milosevic's instructions to party followers smuggled out of the prison by his wife, Mira Markovic, was played at a meeting of the SPS executive last week, insiders have revealed.

Ms Markovic spent three days in The Hague, visiting her husband for the first time since his extradition on 28 June.

In his message, Mr Milosevic ordered purges of the ranks of the SPS. Branislav Ivkovic, a top official, was singled out as the first to be removed.

Mr Milosevic, who still formally heads the SPS, dubbed Mr Ivkovic "a traitor" who had to be sacked. Mr Ivkovic allegedly knew in advance that the extradition of his party boss was imminent in June and did nothing to prevent it.

The removal of Mr Ivkovic would mean victory for SPS hard-liners who cling to the belief that Mr Milosevic will prove his innocence once he appears before the war crimes tribunal and return to Belgrade a hero.

They have suggested that the SPS rents a house in The Hague, so that it can collect Mr Milosevic's orders and relay them to Belgrade. The idea has so far been rejected by the Dutch authorities.

The hard-liners have no objection to Ms Markovic pulling the strings of the party in Mr Milosevic's name.

The moderates are mostly younger SPS officials, who would like to remove their boss and start implementing reforms to keep the party alive.

Analysts say that if the SPS is taken over by Ms Markovic, it has no future. The party has the lowest approval ratings in decades and in addition to its power base, has lost most of its financial resources.