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Serbia: Roundup Of Underworld Figures Continues

  • Jolyon Naegele

The hunt for the assassins of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has produced some 750 detentions of suspects from 155 criminal gangs. Although many have been released, at least half remain in custody. The roundup appears to be part of an extensive crackdown on organized crime that Djindjic had been preparing when he was gunned down last week. As RFE/RL reports, 35 judges who the authorities now believe were beholden to the old Milosevic regime are being forced to retire.

Prague, 20 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The roundup of organized crime figures in Serbia continues in the wake of last week's assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic

The governor of Serbia's Central Bank, Mladjan Dinkic, today urged the government to continue the fight against organized crime but that a state of emergency imposed after Djindjic's death should not last beyond April.

Dinkic told Radio B92 that the economy is weathering the crisis well in the wake of the assassination of Djindjic on 12 March. He said the past week has shown the Serbian dinar to be stable.

Among the most recently arrested is Milan Sarajlic, a deputy state attorney who is alleged to have links with the "Zemun" clan -- the organized-crime network that authorities accuse of having organized the killing.

The week-old state of emergency enables police to detain suspects for up to 30 days without charges. Serbia's acting president, Natasa Micic, has said the state of emergency will remain in effect until Djindjic's killers have been brought to justice.

In an interview with the Italian daily "La Repubblica" this week, UN war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte described her last meeting with Djindjic in Belgrade on 17 February at which Djindjic predicted his plans to reform the police and army would result in his being killed. Del Ponte says she informed Djindjic, without going into detail, that she was aware of plans to destabilize Serbia.

There is no indication yet that police and military officers are among those who have been detained -- with the exception of a key suspect, Milorad "Legija" Lukovic, who headed an elite police unit, the Red Berets, until last year.

Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said two of the three suspected gunmen in the assassination have been identified. But he declined to name them. Mihajlovic, appearing on RTS state TV, showed a photograph of one of the suspects. "This is one of the most identified perpetrators. The other two have been identified. We know their first and last names. They are part of the group we are tracking," he said.

However that photo subsequently turned out to have come from the stolen ID document of a person who bears a strong resemblance to a key suspect but had no involvement in the plot.

Djindjic was killed by a sniper, accompanied by two men armed with pistols. They are still at large as are the suspected ringleaders, whom the Interior Ministry now believes are still in the Belgrade area.

Meanwhile, Djindjic's successor as prime minister of Serbia, Zoran Zivkovic, told the daily "Glas" that there were political motives behind the assassination. Zivkovic said certain parties will have to be banned but that the decision will be made by the constitutional court rather than by the government.

A senior member of the ruling DOS coalition, Social Democratic Party Chairman Slobodan Orlic, said two opposition parties which had predicted a "Bloody Spring" were the "political inspirers of the assassination."

Orlic said one of the suspect parties is the Serbian Radical Party, headed by Vojislav Seselj, who turned himself into the UN's war crimes tribunal in The Hague last month and is now in custody awaiting trial. The Radicals were the only parliamentary party to have boycotted parliament's memorial service for Djindjic and have yet to condemn his murder.

The other suspected party is the Serbian Unity Party, founded by the late Serbian paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan. His widow, the pop singer "Ceca," was arrested on 17 March allegedly after having offered refuge to the ringleaders of the assassination. Serbian Unity Party Chairman Branislav Pelevic denounced Orlic's allegation as "inaccurate, irresponsible, and ill-meaning."

The speaker of the Vojvodina provincial assembly, Nenad Canak, is calling for banning the Radicals. "A normal society cannot be constituted if in it there is a party whose ideology of 'blood and territory' was defeated in World War II. There is no difference between the Serbian Radical Party's program for Serbia and the way Hitler in the Third Reich viewed subhuman races," Canak said.

As the pro-Western Canak put it, "It's them or us."

Interior Minister Mihajlovic said Seselj was the last political ally of the Zemun gang. The gang and the Radicals are both based in Belgrade's suburb of Zemun. Police broke into one of the gang's flats there yesterday and found a large collection of automatic weapons and police uniforms.

The Radical Party has issued a statement rejecting the allegations of its affiliation with the Zemun gang as "lies and stupidities."

Justice Minister Vladan Batic yesterday announced the forced retirement of 35 judges, including seven Supreme Court justices. Batic said, "The inefficiency of the courts enabled some killers and other criminals to avoid justice for years."