Paddy Ashdown: Bloody legacy of a man whose talent was lying

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The Independent Online

Milosevic was an opportunist rather than a nationalist, but he unleashed the forces of Serb nationalism. In Croatia the response was Tudjman. In Bosnia it was genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Milosevic brought shame and disaster on the great Serb people. They are now known in far too much of the world as the people who perpetrated aggression and killing at places such as Srebrenica.

Milosevic started off with a country that included Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia, and ended with a small Serbia. A joke used to do the rounds that Mira, Milosevic's wife, comes into the bedroom saying : "Sloba, there are troops in the garden." He replies: "Don't worry, they're guarding the borders of Yugoslavia."

In the end the Serbs realised who he was, which is why they got rid of him. But Milosevic fooled too many Western statesmen for too long. The intervention came too late. The scales fell from the eyes of the international community over Kosovo. If they had realised earlier he was not part of the solution but part of the problem, tens of thousands of people would have lived and millions would not have been driven from their homes.

Milosevic was subtle and wily, but also charismatic and charming. His biggest advantage was his ability to lie straight in your face. I spent a day seeing the Kosovan Albanian villages being shelled by Serb artillery. The next day he flatly denied to me it was happening, until I told him I had seen it - and then he made up some excuse.

The people in the Balkans are the world champion conspiracy theorists and will come up with conspiracies about Milosevic's death. But whom does his death serve? It doesn't help the trial at The Hague. He and Tudjman have cheated justice.

His death is a kind of closure of the Balkan wars, but the real closure will not come until his henchmen, Mladic and Karadzic, are brought to justice.

Lord Ashdown is a former high representative of the international community in Bosnia