The arrest over the weekend of the former head of Serbia's state security service, Rade Markovic, sends the clearest signal yet that the authorities in Belgrade are moving toward arresting former President Slobodan Milosevic. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that Markovic's arrest is likely to help solve numerous politically-based murders and disappearances in the final years of the Milosevic regime.
Prague, 26 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Ever since several hundred thousand Serbs took to the streets of Belgrade last October and persuaded Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to concede defeat in elections he tried to manipulate, the new government has zigzagged on its intentions to bring the former dictator to justice.
Milosevic's successor, Vojislav Kostunica, has pledged not to hand the ex-president to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague.
Today, on a visit to Slovakia, Kostunica again indicated that Milosevic would have to answer to courts in Belgrade rather than The Hague. He said the rule of law would prevail over any sense of "revolutionary justice" that, according to Kostunica, had existed in Yugoslavia for more than half a century.
"As far as the fate of the former President Milosevic is concerned and a trial that could take place in regard to his accountability, this is a question for our judicial organs, the laws and the courts. We'll do everything that has to be done."
At the same time, the UN tribunal today convicted the first senior politician from the former Yugoslavia of crimes against humanity. The court sentenced the former vice president of the Bosnian Croat mini-state known as Herceg-Bosna, Dario Kordic, to 25 years in prison for persecuting, killing, and detaining Muslims in central Bosnia from late 1991 to 1994.
Hague court Judge Richard May's words were clearly addressed as much to Milosevic and others indicted of war crimes and still at large as they were to Kordic, who stood in the dock as May read out his sentence.
"The fact that you were a politician who took no part in the actual execution of the crimes makes no difference. You played your part as surely as the men who fired the guns. Indeed, the fact that you were a leader aggravates the offenses."
But it was Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic who over the weekend (24 February) announced the arrest of the once-feared head of Serbia's secret police, Rade Markovic, whose alleged crimes were of a more domestic nature.
"I'd like to inform you that the Serbian Interior Ministry, acting on a warrant from the public prosecutor and the Belgrade district court, today took into custody the former commander of the department for state security, Mr. Radovan Markovic, on suspicion of having committed murder according to article 57, paragraph 2/6 of the penal law of the Republic of Serbia and of the crime specified in the official document article 248, paragraph three."
Yesterday (25 February), Batic told a local radio station that Markovic's arrest was "just the beginning of the story, and probably at the top of the pyramid is Slobodan Milosevic. But," he added, "we want everything done according to the law, backed up by facts, evidence and arguments." He said it was logical to expect that Markovic's arrest was a step that would "tighten the net."
In announcing Markovic's arrest Saturday, Batic said that two other Interior Ministry employees were also charged with murder in an October 1999 attack on the Belgrade-Cacak highway. In that incident, a Mercedes-Benz truck, owned by the Serbian Interior Ministry, slammed into a vehicle carrying leaders of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, including the party's chairman, Vuk Draskovic. Draskovic was slightly injured but four of his aides, including his brother-in-law, were killed.
Batic noted that murder in Serbia carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum penalty of death. He declined to say when Markovic was arrested but noted that the former security chief did not put up any resistance.
Draskovic, in an interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic Service, was quick to criticize the authorities for taking so long to arrest Markovic:
"It's good that Markovic [has] been arrested, but this raises the question of why only now. Why weren't they arrested October 6 [when Milosevic resigned] and how much of their many crimes did they manage to cover up in the last three-and-a-half months?"
Draskovic says that in the last two to three years, several hundred Serbian citizens were the victims of political murders, including newspaper publisher Slavko Curuvija and former Serbian Prime Minister Ivan Stambolic, who has been missing for the past six months. He also says that most evidence of state security involvement in these murders has probably been destroyed since October.
A journalist with the Belgrade weekly "Vreme," Filip Svarm, agrees with Draskovic that the new regime has been slow to prosecute. He says that certainly much evidence, but equally certainly not all evidence, of the highway attack has been destroyed since the fall of the Milosevic regime.
Still, Svarm says, Markovic's arrest is a positive signal.
"It is the first indication by the new authorities that they are bringing to account all those in Serbia who created one of the most corrupt and dangerous countries on earth, a country where connections among top politicians, organized crime figures, and the police was a way of life."
Svarm says the Markovic case shows that what he terms "political corruption" went right to the top of the former regime and that Milosevic's arrest is inevitable, though when it will occur remains unclear.
But Svarm says it remains to be seen whether the arrest of Markovic will shed any light on the disappearance of Stambolic, which he describes as "one of the most difficult and murkiest issues."
Stambolic's wife, Katarina, expressed relief at Markovic's detention.
"Whether [Markovic's arrest] was due to Ivan or to his close relationship with Slobodan Milosevic [and his wife] Mira Markovic -- he's a person who didn't just contact them on official business, they met privately. He was an absolute friend, he carried out his orders. But those who gave the orders also know that he'll give their names."
Whether Markovic will tell all remains far from clear.