- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro, March 28 (UPI) — Police Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said Friday that one of the greatest criminal mysteries in Serbia in recent years has been solved — the mystery of the disappearance of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic in August 2000.

Mihajlovic said Stambolic's remains were unearthed late Thursday in a hole on Fruska Gora Hill in the northern province of Vojvodina.

Four members of the Special Operations Unit, or JSO, in a van at Belgrade's Kosutnjak Park, kidnapped Stambolic. After a change of vehicles, he was taken to Fruska Gora, killed by gunshot and thrown into a hole, which was then filled with quick lime, Mihajlovic said.

The minister refused to disclose the names of the four killers "for the sake of investigations."

The JSO, also known as the Red Berets, was a paramilitary formation run by ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's secret service.

"An investigation has established that this liquidation was politically motivated with the aim of eliminating Stambolic as a possible candidate at the pending Yugoslav presidential election (in September 2000) — and this clearly indicates who may have been the inspirer or taskmaster in this crime," Mihajlovic told a press conference in the government building.

The 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition, or DOS, after Stambolic's disappearance chose Vojislav Kostunica to contest the election against Milosevic, the incumbent president who oversaw the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Mihajlovic said that both Milosevic, in his prison cell at The Hague war crimes tribunal's Scheveningen detention center, and his wife, Mirjana Markovic, will be questioned about the murder.

Police later said Markovic cannot be found at any of her known addresses. In The Hague, spokesman Jim Landale told Belgrade media that the war crimes tribunal will allow Serbian police investigators to interrogate Milosevic.

The other police spokesman, Mihajlovic, also said the four alleged perpetrators of the crime have been arrested. They are remanded in Belgrade's central prison — the same facility where Milosevic's secret service chief Rade Markovic was also imprisoned after being sentenced to a term of seven years for helping organize an assassination attempt on opposition leader Vuk Draskovic on a road south of Belgrade in 1999. Draskovic survived the attempt but four officials of his party were killed.

Friday's announcement came hard on the heels of Thursday night's revelation that earlier in the day two leaders of Serbia's most powerful criminal group, the so-called "Zemun Clan," had been killed in a shootout with police in the area of the town of Barajevo, near Belgrade.

One of the men killed was Dusan Spasojevic, also a former secret service officer. His close friend, Mile Lukovic, had been identified by police as being behind the March 12 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The Red Berets' former commander, Police Col. Milorad Lukovic is the third man suspecting of masterminding the Djindjic murder. Lukovic, known by his nom de guerre Legija, is still on the run.

Mihajlovic said police had incontrovertible evidence that the man who fired the bullets that killed Djindjic as he walked from his car to Belgrade government building on March 12 was Police Lt. Col. Zvezdan Jovanovic, JSO assistant commander, who is under arrest. The minister added forensic tests on a Heckler & Koch G-3 rifle found discarded in New Belgrade was the weapon used by Jovanovic in the killing.

The Red Berets, founded by Milosevic in 1991 to fight first in the Yugoslav republics Croatia and Bosnia and at the end of the decade in Kosovo, continued to exist even after his fall from power in October 2000. They had been feared by both the populace and the new democratic authorities who had been reluctant to intervene when the Berets mounted a rebellion in November 2001 and kept the West-East expressway through Belgrade blocked for several days.

Djindjic's determination to finally dispose of the Berets because of their close links with organized crime — and especially with Zemun Clan, allegedly involved in drugs trafficking, extortions and abductions for ransom as their main source of enormous income — is said to have been the main motive for his killing.

But the recently established gendarme has been used by the government since the assassination to break the bone of the JSO, which was ordered disarmed and disbanded on Wednesday.

Serbia's acting President Natasa Micic told the media on Thursday: "The story of the Red Berets is finished."

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