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Saturday, 15 January, 2000, 21:00 GMT
Gangster's life of Serb warlord

Zeljko Raznatovic: Known around the world as Arkan

By Balkans correspondent Paul Wood

Juvenile delinquent, bank robber, agent of the secret police, businessman, paramilitary leader, politician, gangland boss.

The career of Zeljko Raznatovic - alias Arkan - has encompassed all the above, his rise and fall a mirror of the last 20 years in Yugoslav society itself.

Raznatovic was born in Slovenia in 1950, the son of a senior Yugoslav air force officer.

In his early teens he turned to petty crime, snatching purses in Belgrade's Kalemegdan park, and his despairing father apparently turned to contacts in Yugoslav state security, asking them to sort his son out.

International crime

But his son's life of crime continued, with convictions for bank robbery in Belgium, Holland and Germany, and arrest warrants in Sweden and Italy.

Killing was a patriotic duty and profitable career
Goran Vukovic, a Serbian mobster, reminisced: "Of all of us, Arkan robbed the most banks. He walked into them almost like they were self service stores - banks were his speciality as well as escapes from prison."

In fact, Raznatovic escaped from jails in Belgium and Holland, an achievement which many feel was linked to his employment by Yugoslav state security.

The Belgrade press later reported that Raznatovic worked as a government hitman, targeting troublesome Yugoslav emigres abroad.

Hooligan militia

The nom-de-guerre he later used, Arkan, was taken from one of his false passports provided by the Yugoslav state.

Back in Serbia in the 1980s, Arkan opened a patisserie and set about building a towering and rather kitsch marble edifice for his home and business headquarters, which has become one of Belgrade's unofficial landmarks.

With official connivance, he took charge of the Red Star Belgrade supporters' club - the ground is right opposite his house.

He later recruited some of Red Star's most violent hooligans into Serbian Volunteer Guard - the Tigers.

The Tigers first saw action in eastern Slavonia in 1991.

War crimes

Arkan and his fighters were linked by the war crimes tribunal at the Hague to the Vukovar hospital massacre, in which hundreds of patients - mainly Croats - were bussed to a deserted field and summarily executed.

Tigers committed some of the most brutal atrocities in Bosnia
His men were later accused of carrying out some of the most brutal ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, actions which, again, formed the basis of a Hague indictment for Arkan.

That he was closely linked to the Yugoslav state is disputed by Belgrade.

In his memoir To End A War, the former US negotiator Richard Holbrooke recalls: "Whenever I mentioned Arkan's name to Milosevic, he seemed annoyed and claimed he had no influence over him."

State tool

Holbrooke describes Arkan as a "freelance murderer" who had worked for the Yugoslav secret police.

He writes that the CIA uncovered close links between Arkan, his operations in Bosnia and the Yugoslav army command - and that a document cataloguing evidence of these links was presented to President Milosevic as part of the peace negotiations for Bosnia.

Killing for Arkan was patriotic duty - but also good business.

Wherever his paramilitaries went, he was quick to establish a petrol smuggling concession.

Wedding gift

Muslim refugees say their stolen cash and belongings were poured into Arkan's coffers.

Arkan and Ceca: Glamorous couple
Once Arkan and his popstar wife, Ceca, were doing a phone-in on Belgrade's Pink Television, when a female viewer rang to compliment Ceca on her fine gold and diamond necklace.

The viewer correctly described an inscription on it.

"How did you know?" asked the compere as the duo shifted uncomfortably on the plush sofa.

"Because Arkan stole it from me in Bjelina," came the reply.

Milosevic's fear

Slobodan Milosevic was once asked by Richard Holbrooke why he didn't do something about Arkan.

"I am afraid of him," the then Serbian leader is said to have replied.

Theories will abound about just who organised the hit in the Intercontinental hotel.

He led a gangster's life, and this was a gangster's death.

But he also knew a great deal of value to the Hague and many will suspect that just as the Yugoslav state built Arkan up, only the state would have been powerful enough to tear him down.

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See also:
15 Jan 00 |  Europe
Serbian warlord shot dead
29 Mar 99 |  Kosovo
Ethnic cleansing: Revival of an old tradition

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