Djindjic's Assassination: Combing Serbia
Torture chambers, heroin stashes, and weapons caches, garnished with the
arrest of a pop diva, shock Serbia in the aftermath of Djindjic
BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro--It has been a week of shocking
revelations for Serbia as the ongoing investigation into the 12 March
assassination of Serbian
Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic led to the arrests of over 3,000 people
believed to be linked to the Zemun criminal gang, sweeping changes in
the court system, damning
confessions, and the apprehending of a popular female folk singer.
Though the actual assassins are still at large, over 1,000 of those
arrested remain in police custody and 395 charges, some related to
Djindjic and others for earlier
criminal activities, have been brought so far. The trials are expected
to begin during the first week of April.
The raging investigation in the assassination of Djindjic, who was
fatally shot outside the government building on 12 March, is being
carried out under a state of
emergency, which grants authorities the power to hold suspects in
custody for up to 30 days without bringing charges. Acting Serbian
President Natasa Micic said the
state of emergency would remain in effect until the assassins are
The week’s dramatic events started unfolding in front of a stunned pubic
on 17 March, when Serbian heroine Svetlana “Ceca” Raznatovic, perhaps
the country’s most
popular folk singer, was arrested in her posh Belgrade home in the
suburb of Dedinje. The pop singer is the widow of late paramilitary
leader and head of the nationalist
Serbian Unity Party Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic, who was murdered in
In Raznatovic’s house, police found a large cache of guns and
ammunition, as well as various other military and police equipment. A
few days later, state television
showed video material shot in a Belgrade restaurant featuring Ceca
Raznatovic sitting with prominent members of the Zemun gang. According
to police, Ceca
Raznatovic was very close to Zemun gang leaders Dusan Spasojevic and
Milorad Legija Lukovic, who spent several nights in her house just prior
to the assassination.
The singer is also said by the authorities to have been in touch with
the two after the assassination.
The drama reached a new peak on 19 March when police arrested Deputy
Public Prosecutor Milan Sarajlic under suspicion of cooperating with the
accused of assassinating Djindjic.
Two days later Sarajlic’s boss, Public Prosecutor Sinisa Simic, was
suspended. The government said that during questioning, Sarajlic
admitted he was on the Zemun
gang’s payroll and that he had obstructed all the investigations of
high-profile murders that occurred in the past couple of years. Simic
also allegedly confessed that he
had received a down payment of 150,000 euros to reveal the secret
location of certain protected witnesses.
Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic further shocked the public when he
revealed that another assassination attempt on Djindjic had been planned
a couple of days
before 12 March. According to Batic, confessions have revealed that the
prime minister was originally to be killed while entering the federal
parliament building, but the
assassins held back due to the large number of people and television
cameras around the entrance.
The manhunt is still on for Spasojevic and Lukovic, the two top suspects
believed to have ordered the assassination. The Serbian government has
not released any
names connected with the actual gunmen but did release an unidentified
photograph of one man, which was subsequently published in all the major
In the meantime, police have continued to search buildings connected to
the Zemun gang and have seized large quantities of guns, ammunition, and
to the powerful drug cartel. And on 23 March police used explosives to
completely demolish the Zemun gang’s fortress in a Belgrade suburb.
Police broadcast footage of a cottage where criminals held kidnapping
victims, mostly wealthy businessmen. The house, located in the village
of Banstol in Vojvodina
and owned by the mother of one of the gang members, allegedly served as
a private prison for the detention and torture of abductees. Police
pistols, balaclavas, chains and bags used to secure victims, axes, and
license plates for cars in the house. Several such buildings, mostly
weekend houses, were
The mother of a prominent gang member was also arrested on 23 March
after police raided her weekend home and turned up 15.9 kilograms of
Also on 23 March, one gang member surrendered to the police, telling
prosecutors that the Zemun clan had ordered his execution to prevent him
from giving evidence.
The man, whose name has not been released, reportedly told police that
the gang intends to kill all potential witnesses.
Authorities have also used the past week as an opportunity to cleanse
the judicial system of corrupt judges. Parliament voted 35 judges
nearing retirement age out of
office, while Supreme Court Judge Leposava Karamarkovic was pressured
into resigning. Serbian parliamentarian Bosko Ristic said that
accomplished nothing significant in her two years of service.
In the aftermath of Djindjic's assassination, the democratic government
in Belgrade criticized the judicial system for letting Dejan Milenkovic,
also known as Bagzi, walk
free after a 21 February incident in which the late prime minister was
also the target of the Zemun gang.
The Serbian government implemented some measures against media outlets
that had not followed the guidelines of the state of emergency, which
examination of the reasons behind the introduction of the state of
emergency. The Belgrade daily Vecernje novosti was warned, the
Montenegrin daily newspaper Dan
was temporarily banned from being distributed in Serbia, and TV Mars
from Valjevo, Identity magazine, and the daily Nacional were banned
altogether. Authorities also
suspect that the latter two publications were financed by the Zemun gang
to "create a lynch-mob atmosphere."
The arrest of many Zemun gang members, who formed a powerful narcotics
distribution ring in Serbia, has also affected drug addicts. According
to Radio B92, some
30,000 junkies have been forced to check into hospitals for withdrawal
since the gang members were swept off the streets.
In the meantime, despite the ever-unfolding drama, Djindjic is still
being solemnly mourned and remembered.
On 21 March, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Carla Del Ponte, visited
Djindjic’s grave and issued a public
statement calling the slain prime minister “a crucial force in
cooperation” with the tribunal.
The Serbian parliament on 18 March appointed Zoran Zivkovic, the vice
president of Djindjic’s Democratic Party (DS), new prime minister. Two
other party vice
presidents, Cedomir Jovanovic and Boris Tadic, were nominated as vice
president of the Serbian government and defense minister, respectively.
The party has decided
to postpone elections for a new party president until 2004 out of
respect for Djindjic.
The new heads of government, Djindjic’s closest friends and allies, have
vowed to continue with the prime minister’s work of rooting out
corruption and organized crime
and leading Serbia on a path toward Europe.
--by Dragan Stojkovic
Our Take: A Terrible Wakeup Call
The murder of Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic, a flawed man but
single-minded reformer, should mobilize Serbia to do away with the
menace of organized crime.
by Tihomir Loza
11 - 17 March 2003
Week in Review: Death of a Reformer
Tens of thousands gather to pay their respects to Serbia’s slain prime
minister, while the police round up hundreds in the hunt for his
by Dragan Stojkovic and Jen Tracy
11 - 17 March 2003
Week in Review: Djindjic, Respected and Mourned
The assassination of the Serbian prime minister threatens to destabilize
much of Southeastern Europe.
by TOL correspondents
11 - 17 March 2003
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