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Crossing Continents Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Lifting the lid on Serbia's underworld
A member of Serbia's Gendarmerie, anti-terrorist police
Serbian police have been launching daily raids

The assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has been a catalyst for dealing with Serbia's vast underworld, with around 7000 people questioned so far.

Paramilitary police, their faces disguised by olive green webbing, patrol downtown Belgrade and launch daily raids across the country.

They have already arrested the sniper who allegedly shot Prime Minister Djindjic as he stepped out of his car on 12 March.

Milosevic's government recruited criminals from jail and gave them licence to kill

Derjan Anastasovic, journalist

"Zvezdan Jovanovic, known as 'Snake,' was Deputy Commander of the Red Berets: a highly trained well-equipped anti-terrorist unit used as a death squad under Milosevic.

"Now the whole set of Red Beret commanding officers is in jail," says Derjan Anastasovic, investigative journalist with Vreme magazine.

And he continued: "During the wars Milosevic's government recruited criminals from jail and gave them licence to kill.

"They promised them an amnesty if they proved themselves on the battlefield. It is a sort of Dirty Dozen scenario."

Chaos and corruption

With the fall of Milosevic in October 2000 the new government of Zoran Djindjic and Vojislav Kostunica was left to deal with the corrupt security services.

It was not easy.

Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac says people in the West cannot comprehend how all pervasive the corruption was.

"It was a conspiracy against the state: to have chaos, to have new elections, to have the so-called 'Patriotic Forces' in power, to go back to the old days before Milosevic was sent to the Hague.

"When you see the size of all this you see Djindjic was almost powerless to do anything. And that is a very, very sad statement."

Widespread conspiracy

Raznatovic-Ceca, Svetlana - widow of Arkan
A stash of weapons and ammunition was found at Ceca's home

The list of those pulled in so far takes in supreme court judges, police, the state prosecutor, the former head of state security, his deputy and secret service chiefs.

Police also arrested popular "turbofolk" star, Ceca, who is the widow of indicted war criminal Arkan, who was himself shot in 2000.

In her luxurious villa they found an armoured bunker full of weapons and ammunition.

Rumours abound in Belgrade that the conspiracy involved politicians of all hues.

When asked at a press conference if any political parties were involved, new Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said:

"It is very possible, we cannot exclude political factors. But at the moment we have no proof."

The Serbian mafia

Milorad Lukovic
Milorad Lukovic led a powerful mafia gang

Despite the crackdown, the man who is suspected of being the ringleader behind the plot, Milorad Lukovic, known as "Legija" because of his French Foreign Legion past, is still in hiding.

He was not only a Red Beret commander but a leader of one of Serbia's powerful mafia gangs, the Zemun Clan.

Police have crushed the Zemun gang, killing two of its leaders in a night-time shoot-out, and bulldozing their headquarters.

People like Arkan and Legija, who organised the murder of Djindjic, they had short, brutal and fascinating lives

Deputy Serbian Prime Minister Kovac
According to Marko Nicovic, they too were a part of the assassination plot.

"Nowhere in the world is there such a symbiosis between government, crime and the secret police.

"We have a monster. They use each other: the secret service use criminals and vice-versa, and the state falls down."

Damaged society

Now what is needed is a cultural shift. Ten years of war damages society as Deputy Prime Minister Kovac explains.

"These criminals are all around. Some of them are seen... as heroes.

"We had magazines, media who publicised the lavish lifestyles of these criminals.

"They were almost role models for some youngsters.

"People like Arkan and Legija, who organised the murder of Djindjic, they had short, brutal and fascinating lives."

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 10 April, 2003 at 1102 BST.

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09 Apr 03 | Europe
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