Group Named in Plot on Serbia Chief


By Dusan Stojanovic

Associated Press
April 9, 2003

The assassination of Serbia's prime minister was orchestrated by a shadowy group that wanted to replace the pro-Western government with allies of Slobodan Milosevic, investigators said Tuesday.

The group behind Zoran Djindjic's March 12 killing --- called the ''Hague Brotherhood'' --- hoped the assassination would create widespread chaos and planned to follow with a coup against Serbia's government, the officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

But Djindjic's Democratic Party quickly named a successor after his death and police cracked down hard, arresting 7,000 people, effectively spoiling the plan. The assassins also may have been caught off guard by the huge public outpouring of grief over Djindjic's death --- nearly 1 million people attended his funeral.

Police believe a feared paramilitary group known as the Unit for Special Operations, formed during Milosevic's rule, played a large role in the Hague Brotherhood. Its deputy commander, Zvezdan Jovanovic, was arrested soon after Djindjic's slaying on suspicion of being the assassin.

Jovanovic told investigators he killed Djindjic because he was told his unit would be handed over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, the officials said. Jovanovic also told interrogators he felt no remorse for killing Djindjic and did so because he was convinced Djindjic was an ''unpatriotic'' leader, they said.

At least four other plans to kill Djindjic failed on the eve of his slaying in downtown Belgrade, the officials said. One plan included firing anti-tank rockets at his armored car. The investigation into Djindjic's death led police to the body of another Milosevic foe, Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, who was slain in 2000. His death also has been blamed on Milosevic's allies. About 1,000 people attended Stambolic's funeral Tuesday.

''Ivan Stambolic was killed because of his political beliefs,'' Latinka Perovic, a former Communist official and close Stambolic friend, said at his grave. ''Ivan Stambolic was killed by a system that was based on crime.'' An arrest warrant was issued for Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, in connection with Stambolic's killing. Markovic, who fled the country for Russia weeks ago, denies involvement in his death.

Police studying Djindjic's murder also linked the alleged assassins with allies of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, the state-run Tanjug news agency and state television reported Monday, citing government sources. The reports, which could not be independently verified, said Kostunica's military advisers met secretly with paramilitary commanders suspected in Djindjic's shooting. Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia rejected the allegations.

Kostunica and Djindjic were allies when they joined forces to topple Milosevic in 2000. But they later turned against each other, clashing over the pace of democratic reforms and over whether to extradite Milosevic and other war crimes suspects to the U.N. tribunal. More than 2,000 people remain in custody in the Djindjic investigation and face charges.

Kostunica stepped down earlier this year when his post as federal president was abolished after Yugoslavia was transformed into a loose union renamed Serbia-Montenegro.

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