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Jacky Rowland in Belgrade
"I was straight on air with the news"
 real 28k

Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 21:57 GMT
Reporting on a violent death

Arkan and two associates were gunned down in this hotel lobby Arkan was gunned down in this Belgrade hotel lobby


By Belgrade correspondent Jacky Rowland

I have an alibi: I was asleep.

Early on Saturday evening I was slumbering under my duvet, trying to build up energy and enthusiasm for a big night out.

Ever solicitous of my social life, my assistant Iva had arranged a blind date for me - with a doctor from the emergency unit of Belgrade hospital. I was told he was eligible, and in a few hours I would find out.

My mobile phone rang in the dark. It was a radio studio in London. They had just read an urgent wire from Reuters saying that Arkan, the notorious gangster and warlord, had been shot in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel.



My favourite theory was supplied by Greek television: Arkan had staged his own assassination.
My favourite theory was supplied by Greek television: Arkan had staged his own assassination. After undergoing a change of identity, he was now embarking on a new life overseas.

The phone rang again. It was my cameraman with the same news, this time from his contacts in the police. I was awake and writing ...

The attack on Arkan came as a shock to me, but when I thought about it, I couldn't imagine a more fitting venue. The vast lobby of the Intercontinental, with its false opulence and seventies bad taste, was the perfect setting for a gangster shootout.

The main question now: Was Arkan dead? We knew he'd been taken to the emergency unit with a bullet through his eye, but had he succumbed to his wounds?



'How did she find that out?' they exclaimed. My answer was simple: I never reveal my sources.
The phone rang again. This time it was Iva. In the light of events, should she cancel my blind date with the doctor?

The doctor! I suddenly realised I had the perfect source. We called him straight away and he informed us that Arkan had died just minutes earlier.

I was straight on air with the news. Across town in the Reuters office, they saw my broadcast. "How did she find that out?" they exclaimed. My answer was simple: I never reveal my sources.

Golden bullet



I soon became aware that we were being watched by a man at the next table.
It wasn't long before the source himself was starting to fear he'd been stood up.

As I worked on into the evening, the doctor was left to drink whiskies with the restaurant owner. I finally showed up two hours late, still wearing the clothes I'd been sleeping in.

The doctor was gallant, kissing my hand. He was also as big as a bear, with forearms like joints of meat. A good source maybe, my ideal date, not.

In animated voices, we discussed the events of the evening. I soon became aware that we were being watched by a man at the next table. He introduced himself as a police officer in charge of criminal investigations and proceeded to share a theory that Arkan's killing had been ordered by President Slobodan Milosevic.

What the policeman said next unsettled me still further. "All foreign journalists leave Belgrade with a bullet and you shall be no exception."

He pulled a revolver from his belt, banged it on the table and extracted a golden bullet, which he handed to me.



What the policeman said next unsettled me still further: 'All foreign journalists leave Belgrade with a bullet and you shall be no exception.'
I received one bullet on Saturday night. Arkan received three - or was it 30?

In a city where conspiracy theories abound, there were soon as many stories as storytellers.

Some reports spoke of a lone assassin, others of a team of five or six. Arkan had been killed by a rival in the world of football, went one story, where his team had won the national championship more by threats and blackmail than by technical skill.

According to another version, Arkan had been killed by Mr Milosevic's son, Marko, who was jealous of the warlord's inroads into the lucrative oil smuggling business.

It is unlikely the truth behind the assassination will ever be known. Arkan was the most powerful man in the Serbian underworld, the Godfather of all Godfathers. Whoever dared to touch him must be so well protected that they will know how to cover their tracks.

State-controlled newspapers already seem to have found a fall-guy. In front page reports which have fuelled the Arkan frenzy, newspapers claim the police have found one of the assassins. This would appear to be a man spotted by eyewitnesses as he staggered from the lobby of the Intercontinental clutching his wounds. The assailant was conveniently unconscious.

On a hill above Belgrade is a place known as the Gangsters' Graveyard. Several members of the underworld lie buried here following unsolved assassinations.

Arkan has chosen a more respectable resting place: A plot in the New Cemetery. In death he has completed his change of image from notorious hoodlum to member of the establishment.

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Who pulled the trigger?

See also:
16 Jan 00 |  Europe
Who killed Arkan?
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