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Serbian political analyst Zarko Kovac
"There is a feeling of apprehension"
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Monday, 17 January, 2000, 17:06 GMT
Arkan murder mystery

A long list of enemies means no shortage of suspects

By BBC News Online's Joe Havely

Whoever pulled the trigger on Arkan, most people in Belgrade agree on one thing: he died as he lived - violently and amid a web of intrigue.

Belgrade police say the killing in the lobby of one of the city's most prestigious hotels bore all the hallmarks of a gangland hit. Other than that, they say, there is little evidence of a motive or of who carried out the attack.

This is not a simple mob-style killing. The man who knew too much and took part in many things was killed
Goran Svilanovic
Alliance for Change
But even a brief look at Arkan's life - from bank robber and arms dealer to leadership of one of Serbia's most notorious paramilitary groups - reveals a long list of those who could have wanted him dead.

Consequently conspiracy theories about who was behind the killing are rife.

The list of those mentioned in conection with Arkan's death range from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to rival gangsters, arms dealers, drug smugglers and even Serbian soccer chiefs, angered that Arkan had apparently used his position at the head of Obilic football club to engage in match fixing.

Arkan's armour-plated van remains parked outside the Belgrade Intercontinental Hotel
There is also speculation that Bosnian Muslims, Croats or members of the Kosovo Liberation Army had put a price on his head, or that associates of his superstar "turbo-folk" singing wife, Ceca, may have been involved.

Although he travelled in bullet-proof vehicles accompanied by heavily armed bodyguards, Arkan himself was reported to have been feeling increasingly insecure in recent days, confiding in a friend: "What can I do? I'm trying to stay alive."

Slavoljub Kacarevic, editor of on independent Serbian newspaper Glas Javnosti, adds: ''The main question was not whether Arkan would be killed, but when.''

Criminal society

Another theory on Arkan's death centres on the possibility that he ran into trouble in gangland dealings with President Milosevic's playboy son, Marko, who is himself alleged to have strong underworld connections.

Arkan's Tigers are accused of committing a series of attrocities
Internationally isolated and blockaded in recent years by sanctions, analysts say that Serbia has become an increasingly criminalised society with growing connections between government and gangland operations.

There are also suggestions that Arkan may have clashed with the Albanian mafia, with whom he once had close ties overseeing a drug smuggling ring through Serbia and Turkey into western Europe.

But by far the most popular theory is that Arkan was killed because he knew too much, and possibly because he was about to hand over evidence to international prosecutors implicating President Milosevic in war crimes.

Someone was making sure that one of the key people who knew too much should not live too long
Mirza Hajric
Bosnian presidential adviser
There is speculation that he may have been trying to negotiate his own immunity in return for testifying against senior Serbian leaders.

Arkan's militia force - the Tigers - was reportedly organised in the early 1990s with the backing of the Yugoslav secret police as a means of enabling President Milosevic to disassociate himself from the killings and ethnic cleansing that took place in the Bosnian and Croatian conflicts.

However, members of President Milosevic's Socialist Party have said accusations of state involvement in Arkan's murder are unfounded.

Speaking to independent radio station B-92, Socialist Party committee member Radmilo Bogdanovic said any speculation behind the killing should await "a detailed police and judicial investigation".

'State terror'

Opposition leader Vuk Draskovic says he has been the target of an assassination attempt
Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, who says he was himself a target of an assassination attempt last October, has labelled Arkan's killing an act of state terrorism.

He said the attack was designed to spread a climate of fear amongst opponents of the regime and strengthen Mr Milosevic's grip on power.

Other opposition figures have said that the professionalism of the killing points to it being a highly organised affair, planned and executed by people who knew what they were doing.

A number of people who had a prominent role in the past wars are vanishing in professionally organised murders
Zarko Korac
Opposition politician
Witnesses to the killing are reported to have seen the assailants at the normally well-guarded hotel sometime before Arkan's entourage arrived.

However, Vladan Batic, leader of the Alliance for Change, said he expects Arkan's death to join a growing list of unsolved murders.

Pulling strings

Independent media have given massive coverage to the killling - state media have not
"Violent death has become an everyday thing and such a murder would be solved quickly only if the police and judiciary functioned normally," he told reporters.

"Someone is pulling the strings and deciding every morning who will be next."

The government meanwhile has remained conspicuously tight-lipped on Arkan's death.

During the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, state media played a key role in portraying Arkan as a hero of the Serb nation.

But whilst coverage of his death has dominated the front pages of non-government press, government-controlled media have relegated it to "other news", marginalising the attack as another of Belgrade's unexplained gangland killings.

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See also:
15 Jan 00 |  Europe
Gangster's life of Serb warlord
16 Jan 00 |  Europe
Face-to-face with Arkan
16 Jan 00 |  Europe
Arkan murder 'prevents justice'

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