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Last Updated: Monday, 3 May, 2004, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Profile: Milorad Lukovic
Milorad Lukovic (archive image)
Lukovic headed the dreaded Red Beret - a special police unit
The world may regard war crimes suspects Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic as Serbia's most wanted men - but in the country itself the top fugitive has long been Milorad Lukovic.

The former police commander - who surrendered on Sunday after a year in hiding - is accused of masterminding the killing of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003.

He is also thought to have played a key role in political repression under former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and in Belgrade's criminal underworld.

Mr Lukovic is among dozens of people being tried - most of them in absentia - in connection with the Djindjic murder and a wider plot to overthrow the Serbian government.

"I hope he will tell everything about many crimes because he is a man who knows a lot," Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said.

Enforcer

Mr Lukovic, 39, was born in Belgrade. In the 1980s he left Yugoslavia for France, where he joined the Foreign Legion - thus gaining his nom de guerre Legija (legionnaire).

Zoran Djindjic
Djindjic was a long-time foe of Milosevic
After touring some of the world's hotspots with the Legion he returned to Serbia in 1992, at the start of the Balkans wars.

He joined a paramilitary unit - the Tigers - headed by the notorious warlord known as Arkan.

Mr Lukovic later joined the Red Berets, a special police force that is believed to have played a significant role in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.

He became leader of the Red Berets in 1999. The unit has also been linked to the kidnap and murder of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic in 2000.

Although he was seen as a ruthless enforcer of Mr Milosevic's rule, Mr Lukovic played a part in the downfall of the Serbian strongman.

In October 2000, when Mr Milosevic was under intense pressure to stand down after his election defeat, Legija and other senior officers refused to unleash the security forces on demonstrators.

Mafia crackdown

However, Mr Lukovic was too deeply implicated with the old regime to remain in office. The post-Milosevic authorities sacked him and disbanded his unit.

But crime and politics were never far apart in the old Yugoslavia, and Legija allegedly found a new career as head of a powerful mafia clan in Belgrade, called the Zemun group.

The Serbian government believes that Mr Djindjic's determined effort to crack down on organised crime was the main reason for his assassination.

According to officials, those who killed the reformist prime minister were hoping to prevent a strike against the Zemun group.

The murder had the opposite effect. A year after being driven into hiding, Mr Lukovic is now behind bars.


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