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Wednesday, March 31, 1999 Published at 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK

Arkan: Feared and ruthless

Arkan: Rumoured to be in the Kosovo region

By Balkans Expert Tim Judah

The news that Serbian paramilitaries are on the rampage in Kosovo is a very worrying development.

Paramilitary groups played key roles in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991-95 and were noted for their ruthlessness and cruelty.

[ image: Vojislav Seselj: From paramilitary to deputy prime minister of Serbia]
Vojislav Seselj: From paramilitary to deputy prime minister of Serbia
On the Serbian side, the two most important paramilitaries were theTigers, led by Zeljko Raznatovic, generally known by his nom de guerre, Arkan, and Vojislav Seselj's Chetniks.

In the last few days, Arkan has been seen in Kosovo, but in interviews he has said that he will only reactivate the Tigers if Nato ground troops attempt to invade Kosovo.

During the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, Arkan's Tigers answered directly to Serbia's Ministry of Interior.

When the war began in Bosnia, in April 1992, the Tigers stormed the key towns of Bijeljina and Zvornik, thus securing strategic bridgeheads linking what was to become the Serb-held part of Bosnia with Serbia.


Before becoming a paramilitary leader Arkan was a gangster and bank robber operating in western Europe.

He is believed to have escaped from jail several times.

It is also believed that, even then, he was working in league with the Yugoslav security services, who helped him out in exchange for his services as a hit man.

Arkan's troops are alleged to have murdered countless ordinary Croats and Bosnian Muslims and to have looted the towns and villages that they stormed.

Arkan's troops were last mobilised in the summer of 1995 in a bid to stem the tide of Serbian defeats, just before the end of the war in Bosnia.

Drunken pillaging

While Arkan's men had a reputation for clinical efficiency, the Chetniks of Vojislav Seselj had a reputation for drunken pillaging.

Still, especially when ordinary Serb soldiers deserted the front, no longer willing to fight, Seselj's men helped make up numbers.

Seselj is now Serbia's deputy prime minister.

For the moment there is no reliable information on exactly who is in control of the paramilitaries now reported to be murdering Kosovo Albanian journalists and politicians and to be taking part in more general attacks.

Serb civilians in Kosovo have been armed and there are reports that some have been seen in new uniforms which are neither recognisable as belonging to the police or army.

Tim Judah is the author of The Serbs: History, Myth & the Destruction of Yugoslavia published by Yale University Press

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