Feature: Djindjic loved again after death


BELGRADE, Serbia, March 28 (UPI) -- Police killed two of the three leaders of a criminal group accused of organizing the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic two weeks ago, the Serbian government announced late Thursday.

The men were Dusan Spasojevic, a former member of the state security service under the regime of ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and Mile Lukovic, his close friend and another leader of the Zemun Clan. They were killed around Barajevo, a small town near Belgrade, while resisting arrest and firing at police with automatic guns earlier Thursday, the government said. Police also found hand grenades on them, it added.


The 200-strong Zemun Clan is named after Belgrade's twin town Zemun. Still on the loose is the overall leader of the clan, Milorad Lukovic -- known under his nom de guerre of Legija -- and police continue a widespread search for him.


Legija was a member of the Special Operations Unit, or JSO, a branch of Yugoslavia's secret service often known as the Red Berets. It was founded in May 1991 and later involved in ethnic wars in Croatia and Bosnia and in Kosovo in 1998 to 1999.

The man who the government said fired the bullets from a sniper rifle that killed Djindjic was arrested two days ago. Police Lt. Col. Zvezdan Jovanovic, 37, was JSO assistant commander.

The JSO, the best trained and equipped police unit with its own helicopters, light artillery and armored combat vehicles, was disbanded by government order Wednesday. The JSO had previously been considered untouchable even since the bloodless coup that overthrew Milosevic in 2001.

Indeed Djindjic's legacy is coming out in any number of ways, though one cannot help but wonder whether it will stick. But for the moment, at least, hundreds continue to flock to his graveside as Serbia's ruling DOS coalition has closed ranks behind his successor and vowed to clean out the killers with an "iron broom."

Although almost adored by many when he took office in January 2001 after steering the drive to overthrow Milosevic, Djindjic soon began losing his popularity as ordinary people became disillusioned by the slow progress of his promised reforms.


His rating dropped particularly when in June 2001 he extradited Milosevic to The Hague war crime tribunal under threats from the international community to withhold sorely needed aid. The opposition, including Milosevic's Socialists and then-Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia, attacked the move as a sell-out.

Djindjic was said to be much more appreciated by world leaders, with whom he mixed with remarkable aplomb, than among his own compatriots.

It was only at Djindjic's death that large sections of the people suddenly realized that his policies, even under the strains of the country's transition, had laid the groundwork for improvements in all walks of life and held out the promise of a better life in the years to come.

Old people and young, hardly able to conceal emotions, are confessing in man-on-the-street interview that they feel like they lost a member of their own families or like Serbia is now lost without hope. Many among the under-30 group say they are contemplating following in the steps of their predecessors during the barren decade under Milosevic and settle abroad for good.

A sociologist said: "In Serbia, liberal reformers gain fame and love only after death."

Meanwhile, new Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic and his team of ministers handpicked by Djindjic have been expressing their determination to deal relentlessly with criminal gangs that they say have their roots in the old regime, and among members of the police and the judiciary inherited from it.


Many analysts believe Djindjic was assassinated because well-connected leaders of the region's organized crime caught wind of a looming government crackdown.

If so, the glimmer of hope for Serbia will be that Djindjic's legacy does stick. So far the Serbian parliament has put on pension 35 judges, including eight Supreme Court judges, at the urgent motion of the government. Nearly 80 other judges have been suspended and a district judge was arrested last week on charges of corruption and connections with the criminals.

This followed accusations by Justice Minister Vladan Batic that the judiciary is riddled with Milosevic supporters, lenient toward members of the former regime and the criminals who had come by riches and power under their protection.

There have been voices in government circles demanding a ban on the work of two right-wing parliamentary parties -- the Serbian Radical Party headed by Vojislav Seselj, a war crimes suspect who surrendered to the Hague tribunal last year, and the Party of Serbian Unity, founded by the notorious paramilitary leader Zarko Raznatovic known as Arkan, who was assassinated in January 2000.

As for arrests, three Zemun clan leaders and dozens of lower level members were reported already captured in police swoops on the homes of their accessories in the interior of Serbia. Police Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said that some 4,000 alleged criminals, mostly unconnected with the clan throughout Serbia, have been rounded up so far and more than 1,000 remanded in custody.


Two former close Milosevic associates, secret police chief Jovica Stanisic and Legija's predecessor as Red Berets commander, Franko Simatovic or Frenki, have also been arrested.

But the greatest stir, especially among fans, has been caused by the March 17 arrest of the darling of the pop and folk music scene, Svetlana Ceca Raznatovic, Arkan's widow. She was accused of harboring Legija and some other Zemun gang leaders in her sumptuous villa at Belgrade's elite Topcider suburb for several days before the Djindjic assassination.

Some 50 police and heavily armed and masked gendarmes searched the villa all day. They recovered from a secret, fortified bunker large quantities of weapons, ammunition and other military and police equipment such as camouflage uniforms, sniper sights, compasses, billy clubs and handcuffs.

Police also reported Thursday evening that Milosevic's daughter-in-law Milica Gajic had been arrested and remanded in custody earlier in the day for failing to respond to court summons. It was not immediately clear if the arrest was connected with the activities of the Zemun Clan including Djindjic's assassination.

Milosevic's son Marko is known to have maintained close links with at least one Zemun Clan member. Mladjan Micic, known as Pacov ("rat" in Serbian), was arrested four days after Djindjic's assassination at a hideout near Pozarevac, the Milosevic family's hometown in eastern Serbia.


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