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Serbia: Belgrade Prosecutors Indict Milosevic Over Political Killings

Prosecutors in Belgrade have charged former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic with masterminding the murder of a former Serbian president and attempting to murder a political opponent. No specific details of the charges were revealed, but prosecutors say Milosevic and four co-defendants will go to trial within two months. Milosevic, already on trial in The Hague for war crimes, denies any involvement.

Prague, 25 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A special prosecutor in Belgrade has charged former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic with involvement in the murder of one prominent politician and the attempted murder of another.

Former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic was abducted and killed in August 2000. Earlier the same year, opposition leader Vuk Draskovic survived an assassination attempt with minor injuries.

The prosecutor's statement issued on 23 September accuses Milosevic of having "created among the perpetrators [of the crime] the decision to commit" both crimes.

Among the co-defendants named in the indictment are the chief of a special forces unit set up under Milosevic, Milosevic's former head of state security and a former chief of staff of the armed forces.

Prosecutors yesterday submitted the indictment to a newly established special court in Belgrade where Milosevic will be tried in absentia.

Police say Stambolic was killed by five members of the Special Operations Unit (JSO) on the night of his abduction. His remains were found earlier this year in a ditch during a crackdown on criminal groups following the assassination in March of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

JSO commander Milorad Lukovic, known as "Legija," was charged with organizing Stambolic's killing. Legija, who is also a prime suspect in Djindjic's assassination, is still at large.

Draskovic, the leader of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, has long maintained that Milosevic was behind a number of political killings. But yesterday he dismissed the indictment as "legal nonsense." He said it doesn't go far enough in saying directly it was Milosevic who gave the order to kill him.

"In the history of law no one has come up with a greater legal nonsense than this, that Slobodan Milosevic created the decision with Legija that Legija would kill Ivan Stambolic and try to kill me. Simply, in order to avoid putting the responsibility on Milosevic and [former state security chief] Radomir Markovic, [the prosecutors] came up with this nonsense. They simply should have said things the way they were: that Slobodan Milosevic ordered Radomir Markovic and Legija to carry out the crimes. But the prosecutors simply did not want that," Draskovic said.

Draskovic accused the prosecutors of trying to cover up what he said was the truth that had been uncovered in the course of the investigation.

Natasa Kandic is the director of the Belgrade-based Fund for Humanitarian Law and a leading expert on war crimes. She said the indictment is an attempt to show the people of Serbia that Milosevic bears personal responsibility for crimes committed against Serbs -- and not only for crimes against other ethnic groups.

"The new indictment against Milosevic, this time in domestic court, means the national judiciary wants to show that Milosevic did not commit crimes only against people from other ethnic communities but that he is responsible under criminal law, that he bears personal responsibility for the crimes committed against members of his [own] ethnic society. And I think it is an attempt [on the part] of the government to show that the former regime [led by] Milosevic was equally brutal against citizens of Serbia." Kandic said.

But Kandic said Milosevic's responsibility for war crimes is still too sensitive a subject in Serbia -- because Milosevic loyalists are too powerful and because of what she said is a lack of political will on the part of the government.

"Milosevic is far [away], but [the] defenders of his policy and his practices of war crimes are [still] in Serbia. This trial will not decrease their power because the main problem with Serbia is the issue of war crimes. And Milosevic is not touched in Serbia based on war crimes responsibility," Kandic said. Milosevic's Socialist Party has already called the indictment a "shameless act of political terror."

Milosevic himself denies he had anything to do with either crime. In a letter written earlier this year from his cell at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Milosevic said it was ridiculous to think he had ordered Stambolic's assassination. Milosevic said, at the time, that Stambolic was "no longer a person of interest -- he was a completely forgotten politician."

Stambolic helped Milosevic rise through the ranks of the Communist Party of Serbia in the 1980s, but the former Yugoslav president later turned against him and ousted him from power. Police had previously tried to question Milosevic in the case, but he refused to cooperate.

Milosevic has also been accused of allegedly embezzling and transferring abroad millions of dollars in state money. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said yesterday that international investigators will hand over to the authorities documents about Milosevic's alleged financial fraud.

Batic yesterday met with UN chief war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte in The Hague. He later said the amount of money allegedly stolen by Milosevic made his head spin.