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Serbia: Prime Minister Says Djindjic Assassination Linked To Drug Trade

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic today announced results of the investigation into the assassination two weeks ago of his predecessor, Zoran Djindjic.

Prague, 26 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- One day after Serbian police announced the arrest of the suspected gunman in the 12 March killing of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, his successor, Zoran Zivkovic, held a news conference in Belgrade on the investigation.

Zivkovic said the main point of the criminal group was the hope of creating political instability leading to a complete state of anarchy.

"In addition to a clear list of people who participated in this murder, the investigation has also revealed their secondary activities, and that is above all drug trafficking," Zivkovic said.

More than 1,000 people have been detained, though many have been released.

The Interior Ministry identified the gunman as Zvezdan Jovanovic, a deputy commander of Special Operations Unit (JSO), also known as the Red Berets. The ministry said the gunman used a Heckler Koch G3 sniper rifle that police found in Belgrade and that ballistics analysis showed was used in the killing. The government also disbanded the unit, which is alleged to have been used in ethnic-cleansing operations during the wars of the past 12 years.

Prime Minister Zivkovic said none of the suspects was on the list of people indicted by the UN's war crimes tribunal in The Hague, adding that the murder was not a direct response to the tribunal's activities -- the trials of former Serbian leaders Slobodan Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj and the warrants for the arrests of General Ratko Mladic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

Nevertheless, Zivkovic said there were contacts, there was a "synergy among various enemies of this state," adding "this is not demagogy, this is reality."

"We have clear details, lists about how the leadership of all those who were distributors of more than 100 kilos of drugs a month all over Serbia, including the biggest group that had a virtual monopoly over this with clear data about how many drugs were sold in Belgrade, how many in Vojvodina, how many in central Serbia, with the names of the people who were doing this," Zivkovic said.

He said that most of the suspects are already in jail though a few are still being sought. "100 kilos of drugs a month, hard drugs, that means hashish -- no, excuse me, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy -- has a value of tens of millions of dollars and that criminal activity of the group was the most serious reason why they were doing what they were doing and the main reason that they killed the greatest fighter against crime that we had in our country and that is the former premier, the late Zoran Djindjic," Zivkovic said.

Zivkovic also linked the crime group to a variety of other murders and assassinations in Serbia. "Above all it is clear that many of the murders of the past decade that have gone unexplained were also committed by members of this group, including several political murders, and the liquidation [of people] with the 'blessing' and on the orders of commercial interests," he said.

Zivkovic said the reason Djindjic was shot was in part due to the failure of members of parliament to take a firm stand against organized crime. Instead, he said, they were unwilling to take sides or else he said they falsely alleged that anticrime legislation was unconstitutional and are now challenging the state of emergency as unconstitutional -- a clear denunciation of the parliamentary opposition.

"We now have a historic chance that this will be a year when crime will be defeated in Serbia, not completely, that's not possible in any state, but to create the historic conditions and opportunity that it will be so defeated that crime in this country will be on the level of the safest states in Europe," Zivkovic said.

Zivkovic announced that the state of emergency imposed after Djindjic's killing and to remain in effect until the murderers were brought to justice will be lifted shortly. "The state of emergency was imposed against criminals and the state of emergency against criminals in this country will last forever. The state of emergency as a measure will be lifted as soon as possible. I expect it will take a day until we will be able to say that the conditions have been created for the state of emergency to be lifted," he said.

But Zivkovic, a former Yugoslav interior minister, said the investigation will continue, and that a state commission will be formed to investigate the extent of police involvement in Djindjic's assassination.