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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 August, 2003, 22:34 GMT 23:34 UK
Milosevic denies rival's murder
Milosevic's trial re-opens on Monday
Slobodan Milosevic has denied any involvement in the 2000 murder of a rival and any links with those accused of killing Serbia's prime minister.

In a handwritten letter, published by a newspaper, the former Yugoslav leader also condemned his trial for war crimes at The Hague, which re-opens on Monday.

Mr Milosevic, who turned 62 last week, is charged with more than 60 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"Just as this fake Hague court, an obvious fiasco, is a tool of war against me, my nation and country, so are these latest accusations (by Belgrade)," he said.

'Authentic letter'

Belgrade prosecutors travelled to the Netherlands earlier this month to question the former leader about allegations he ordered his political opponents killed.

But Mr Milosevic refused to be interviewed as his request for his statement to be made public was turned down.

The authenticity of Sunday's letter, printed in the Vecernje Novosti newspaper, was confirmed by Ivica Dacic, an associate of Mr Milosevic.

No offence, but Stambolic was no longer of any interest to anybody
Slobodan Milosevic

Mr Dacic said the comments should be interpreted as Mr Milosevic's testimony after his demand for a public hearing with the prosecutors was rejected.

Mr Milosevic has been accused in Serbia of ordering the abduction and killing of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic in 2000.

He also is suspected of involvement in an attempt to kill opposition leader Vuk Draskovic in the same year.

Mr Stambolic was heralded as the politician most likely to challenge Mr Milosevic's autocratic tenure in an election.

Lime pit

He was abducted less than a month before the vote, and then killed.

His remains were discovered in a lime pit during the investigation into the March assassination of Serbia's prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, who helped defeat Mr Milosevic.

"No offence, but Stambolic was no longer of any interest to anybody," Mr Milosevic said in the letter.

Mirjana Markovic
Markovic is on the run
"As a politician he had been completely forgotten for a number of years, and any story he was a threat in the elections is a naked lie. It is absurd that I would kill him so he would not endanger me."

Police have also accused Mr Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, of involvement in the killing.

Ms Markovic is believed to be hiding in Russia with the couple's son, Marko, who is suspected of illegal business dealings.

"Their only guilt is that they are my family," Mr Milosevic wrote.

He went on to deny ordering the assassination of Mr Draskovic, the opposition leader, in his holiday home in the sea resort of Budva, suggesting the attack was staged.

"I never believed that what happened in Budva was a murder attempt," Mr Milosevic wrote.

"So many bullets fired in such an enclosed space, all of them missing, well, even with Draskovic's acting talent, it is impossible."

Mr Milosevic's security chief was convicted to seven years in prison for organising the attack.

'Murky underworld'

The allegations against Mr Milosevic in Serbia followed a police sweep against his loyalists and crime bosses following Mr Djindjic's assassination.

Police exacted confessions from members of Mr Milosevic's elite police unit known as the Red Berets about the murders.

The paramilitaries were allegedly linked to the underworld Zemun Clan accused of plotting Mr Djindjic's killing and have since been disbanded.

"I believed, as I do to this day, that this was an anti-terrorist unit such as all states have," Mr Milosevic wrote of the group.

"If any of its members had criminal backgrounds, that was unknown to me. Neither I nor any of my close associates had any connections to any criminal group."

The prosecution at Mr Milosevic's trial at The Hague is set to focus on some of the worst atrocities during Bosnia's three-year war.

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