Balkans: March 14, 2003


: This time the assassination attempt succeeded. Last month it was a truck aiming for his car; this month, on March 12, the thugs used guns. A gunman shot and killed Serbias reform Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic outside a key government building in Belgrade. Djindjic died in a Belgrade hospital shortly thereafter. Djindjic is the man who decided to send Milosevic to the Hagues war crimes tribunal. The essential story: terrorism and organized crime inhabit the same gutters. Milosevic used organized crime syndicates as tools of regime enforcement and to carry out operations against his foes elsewhere in the Balkans. Djindjic not only cracked down on Milosevic, he had started an anti-corruption campaign that was starting to hurt the syndicates. While Croatias President Stjepan Mesic called the murder "an act of madness" (which it is) its also old business as usual, with Balkan crime and Balkan extremist politics finding a common enemy. Think of it as war criminals in league with the criminal element a tough combination for an emerging democracy to face. On March 13, Serb sources said that Milorad Lukovic, the head of the Zemun Clan (a Serb gang) had ordered the assassination. Lukovic has old ties to Milosevic since he ran the Yugoslav Interior Ministrys Red Beret forces. However, Lukovic also supported the overthrow of Milosevic, and when Milosevic was toppled moved from the Interior Ministry to the underworld (not too big of a leap, actually). On March 14 Serbia announced that a total of 56 people had been arrested in connection with the crime. It will be interesting to see how quickly and thoroughly the government pursues the investigation, because elements of the Serb (Yugoslav) military and secret police are closely tied to organized crime. In late February Djindjic went on Serb TV and proclaimed a government offensive against sex slavery (selling women into prostitution) and drug trafficking. These are big money operations in Serbia and throughout the Balkans (including Kosovo and Albania), and some of the money goes to pay security personnel for protection. Several US newspapers reported that Djindjic was also planning on arresting former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic for war crimes. Face it Serbia is shaken. Could it fall into chaos? That isnt likely. But make no mistake: there is a civil war in Serbia, between the gangsters and the democratizers. (Austin Bay)




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