Milosevic henchman sought over slaying of Serbian
TO THE STAR
BELGRADE—An already numb, beaten-down Serbian
populace reacted with weary disgust at the news yesterday that
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, a Western-backed reformer,
had been assassinated.
The government announced a nationwide state of emergency and
the airport, bus and train stations and city limits were sealed as
the search for conspirators continued today.
Police reportedly have two suspects in custody.
One of the key suspects being sought is Milorad "Legija"
Lukovic, who once headed the special police unit — known as Red
Berets — used by former Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic for
Another leading suspect is Dusan Spasojevic, a controversial
businessman connected with one of the most powerful organized crime
clans that dominate Serbian society.
Djindjic, 50, was publicly credited with toppling Milosevic
from power in 2000 and handing him over to the international war
crimes tribunal in The Hague.
As prime minister of Serbia — one of the six political
entities carved out of the former Yugoslavia — Djindjic had been
attempting to modernize his troubled country and usher it into
Djindjic was ambushed at 12:25 p.m. in front of the main
Serbian government building. He was shot in the back and stomach. A
doctor at Belgrade Emergency Centresaid he was dead on arrival at
The shots were believed to have come from a sniper positioned
on the roof of a building across the street. Djindjic was shot as he
was leaving his car. Sources said a blanket was found in the
building and authorities speculated the assassins spent Tuesday
night lying in wait.
Word began filtering out to a disbelieving public within
minutes of the shooting. Few dramatic expressions of grief for
Djindjic were seen, but a heavy melancholy hung over crowds who had
come out to enjoy a rare spring-like day.
"This country will go straight down the tubes now," said
Srdjan Todorovic, a popular young actor, as he rushed down the
street in tears.
A crowd gathered at the murder site and several hundred
supporters of Djindjic's Democratic Party carried flowers and lit
Zorica, a 30-year-old schoolteacher, with tears in her eyes,
declared: "This was the best man we had."
A three-day period of mourning was declared. It was the first
assassination of a European head of government since Swedish Prime
Minister Olof Palme was gunned down in Stockholm in 1986.
Foreign nationals throughout the city expressed nervousness
and concern that the situation might spiral into one of greater
instability, as factions within the military, police and government
jockey for advantage.
The shooting of the baby-faced philosophy Ph.D., who had
studied in Germany, comes at a time of low morale and limited
confidence in government in its second year of transition to
democracy. The period has been marked by high unemployment and
conflict between Djindjic and former federal president Vojislav
While Kostunica is closely aligned with conservative
nationalist forces, Djindjic was generally viewed as the best hope
for a technocratic solution to the nation's moribund economy.
Kostunica stepped down after Yugoslavia was abolished last month and
replaced by a new state renamed Serbia and Montenegro.
Djindjic, the son of a military officer, became involved in
politics as a student during the regime of Josip Broz Tito, and was
one of the founders of the democratic opposition to Milosevic and
main strategist of the Oct. 5, 2000, uprising that ousted him.
He had many enemies in a society plagued by political
intrigue, and had recently declared war on organized crime.
Three weeks ago, Djindjic escaped injury when a car driven by
a man with mob ties swerved out of traffic and careered toward his
motorcade. In a bizarre move, a judge released the driver, prompting
Djindjic to call for an investigation of the judiciary.
"He who plays with fire gets burned," said Zoran Miljkovic,
40, a bus driver.
Last night, about 50 police jeeps were seen headed in the
direction of Surcin, home to a powerful mob faction. Opposition
leaders have long claimed Djindjic had connections with shady
businessman Spasojevic and the Zemun Mafia.
Police were searching for 20 suspects, key among them
Lukovic, whose Red Berets are widely believed to have committed
atrocities in Kosovo.
According to Djindjic, the night before the Oct. 5, 2000,
revolution he arranged with Lukovic that the Red Berets would not
oppose the uprising.
Also wanted is Dejan "Bugsy" Milenkovic, who drove the car
that hit Djindjic's motorcade in late February.
In the last two years, critics have repeatedly warned of the
danger posed by police, army and judicial officials who had served
under Milosevic yet continued to play high-level roles in
"We're at a crucial point — in the next couple of days, if
the remaining security forces in the army cannot get rid of this
criminal mafia complex created by Milosevic, then we are in big
trouble," said Vojin Dimitrijevic, director of the Belgrade Center
for Human Rights and former international law professor.
"Unfortunately, the winning coalition against Milosevic was
not resolute enough to get rid of them," he said. "After a time of
hibernation, they reappeared."
Many of these criminals, who run the narcotics, arms and
human trafficking trade, also committed war crimes in Bosnia and
political murders under Milosevic, and are allies of those opposing
The Hague tribunal.
"They saw Djindjic as the ablest politician who would do
something" to turn them in, said Dimitrijevic. "They were not
worried about Kostunica, who was a legalist who gave them every
opportunity to escape justice.
"I don't trust the remaining security services, but I think
the citizens of Serbia, by opposing the mafia, can prevent them from
governing the country."
Under the constitution, acting President Natasa Micic must
nominate a successor to be approved by the Serbian parliament.
Within hours of the shooting, officials of the Democratic Opposition
of Serbia coalition, declared that they would put aside differences
and declare war on the mafia.
Djindjic was married with a son and daughter.
Russ Baker is an investigative reporter who has written
extensively on the former Yugoslavia.