Assassination suspect gives war-crime deal

April 1, 2003 at 2:55 PM
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BELGRADE, Serbia, April 1 (UPI) -- A senior secret service officer accused of organizing last month's assassination of the Serbian prime minister has approached the Hague war crimes tribunal offering information about the two most wanted Bosnian Serb leaders in exchange for a new identity and asylum abroad, according to diplomatic sources speaking to Belgrade media.

Police Col. Milorad Lukovic, known as Legija, has had close ties with Radovan Karadzic, former president of Republika Srpska, and his wartime army commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, reports said Tuesday. He offered to disclose their present whereabouts through an intermediary, they said.

The United Nations has indicted Karadzic and Mladic for their alleged roles in the slaughter of thousands of Muslims and Croats in Bosnia by Bosnian Serb forces, particularly the massacre in Srebrenica in 1995. Among 16 charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity are also using nearly 300 U.N. peacekeepers as human shields and shelling Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

As the two most wanted men in the world by the United Nations, prosecutors could not help but find tempting any authoritative information that could lead to their capture. Turning that information into custody is another story, however -- as is its price.

Asked if she could confirm the reported offer, the spokeswoman of the U.N. tribunal prosecution, Florence Hartmann, was quoted as saying: "I cannot comment on it. It is too sensitive a topic."

The new Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic today said he was sure the tribunal would not agree to such a bargain. "I can believe Lukovic intends to sell Serbian citizens and others down the river just as he has sold his friends and that he is now about to try and sell something else. But I think he hasn't got the goods he is offering to the Hague tribunal and I am sure the tribunal will not enter into any kind of dirty trading with anybody," he declared.

Lukovic has been on the run since March 12, when reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was shot and killed while he walked from his car into the government building in Belgrade. Serbian authorities believe Lukovic and his alleged connections to organized crime were behind the assassination.

Two men accused with Lukovic of planning the assassination were traced by police to a rural farmhouse outside Belgrade and killed in a shootout last Thursday. They were Dusan Spasojevic, also a former secret service officer, and Mile Lukovic. All three were leaders of Serbia's most powerful criminal gang, known as "Zemun Clan."

Police said Tuesday Lukovic may have fled the country on a Croatian passport. The Serbian police ministry said Lukovic possesses a diplomatic passport issued in 1996 in which his profession was given as "an expert." Police in Zagreb, Croatia, Tuesday confirmed a report by the Serbian ministry that he also has a forged Croatian passport in the name of Vlado Vukomanovic.

Croatia, along with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia-Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia, are the nation-states formed after the bloody break-up in the 1990s of Yugoslavia, a former Soviet satellite.

Lukovic is a former commander of the Special Operations Unit, known as JSO or more colloquially the Red Berets. The group was founded in 1991 by then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's secret service and took part in ethnic wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, during the former Soviet satellite's bloody break-up.

After Djindjic's assassination the Serbian government disbanded the JSO, which had remained a greatly feared, secretive force even though Milosevic and his regime were toppled in a bloodless popular uprising in Oct. 2000.

Dozens of JSO and Zemun Clan members as well as hundreds of other criminals have been rounded up by police, who said Serbian authorities are preparing charges against them.

JSO Lt. Col. Zvezdan Jovanovic, known as Zmija ("snake" in Serbian), has been arrested and accused of killing Djindjic outside the government building with a sniper rifle from the window of a nearby house.

Five other JSO men, including Lukovic's successor as commander, Dusan Maricic, are also under arrest and are expected to be charged with kidnapping and killing Ivan Stambolic in August 2000. Milosevic, who ousted Stambolic as Serbian president in 1987, is suspected by the government of ordering the murder.

One of the five as yet unidentified men led police to a quick lime pit on Fruska Gora Hill, where Stambolic was shot, then buried in the northern province of Vojvodina.

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