Andrija Artukovic, ‘Butcher of the Balkans,’ Dead at 88
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Andrija Artukovic, who was extradited from the United States and convicted of ordering thousands of prisoners killed in World War II, has died in jail at the age of 88, it was reported Monday.
Known as the ″Butcher of the Balkans,″ Artukovic had been sentenced to death by firing squad in May 1986, but his execution had been postponed indefinitely because of his ill health.
The official news agency reported that he died Saturday in the jail hospital in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, but did not give a cause of death.
Artukovic had been suffering from general and cerebral sclerosis and temporary senility, Tanjug said.
In postponing his execution in August, the Zagreb court said a medical team had found Artukovic suffered from arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, senility and other ailments. Yugoslav law does not permit execution if the convict is ill.
Hearing of the death, his son, Radoslav, said in Los Angeles he was proud of his father and would continue to try to clear his name.
″He was not in charge of the secret police,″ the younger Artukovic said. His father’s extradition in February 1986 and subsequent trial constituted ″an atrocity that every American should be ashamed of,″ he said.
Artukovic served as interior minister and security chief in the Nazi puppet state in Croatia during World War II and oversaw a grisly network of concentration camps.
Born Nov. 29, 1899 in Croatia, Artukovic rose to prominence in World War II and was pronounced a war criminal in 1946.But he had fled Yugoslavia on May 5, 1945, initially spending time in Ireland, where his son was born to him and his Austrian-born wife, Anna.
Artukovic entered the United States in July 1948 and spent most of his time in California.
The Yugoslav government accused Artukovic of being responsible for at least 700,000 deaths, and a preliminary indictment mentioned 231,000.
In 1986, it won a three-decade legal battle with the United States to get him back home.
The Zagreb indictment accused Artukovic of ordering four separate massacres of civilians and partisans and went into grisly detail about the wartime camps he oversaw.
The 32-page indictment, summarizing witness accounts and documents, accused Artukovic of ordering the murder of an unspecified number of people on racial or political grounds.
Artukovic consistently denied involvement in the killings.
His three defense lawyers tried to have their client declared unfit for trial. But the month-long proceedings were allowed to continue with regular examinations by court-appointed doctors. Before his extradition, U.S. authorities declared Artukovic senile and legally blind.
At the trial, the defense argued the crimes fell under a 30-year statute of limitations and said none of the 45 witnesses called by the prosecution had established Artukovic’s guilt. The prosecution said the statute did not cover war crimes.
A five-man tribunal in Zagreb found him guilty on all counts.
At sentencing in May 1986, chief judge Milos Gajski described Artukovic as ″the master of life and death ... founder and inspiring spirit of Nazi Fascist Croatia.″ Croatia was incorporated into Communist Yugoslavia after the end of World War II.
The last of several appeals for clemency was turned down last April.
The last article to appear in Yugoslav media on Artukovic said he slept almost all the time and understood only part of we of Artukovic’s three defense lawyers, said Monday night he and his colleagues would ″do everything″ to help the family recover Artukovic’s body.
Degen said he and another defense lawyer, Zeljko Olujic, also of Zagreb, appealed for ″extraordinary mitigation of sentence″ last summer once Artukovic’s execution was postponed.
″That would have made it possible for the family to get his body when he dies,″ Degen said in a telephone interview from Zagreb. But the federal court of Yugoslavia told the lawyers eight days ago the appeal was rejected, he said.