by Vladimir MATIJANIC
The people charged with Djindjic's murder are Milorad Ulemek Legija, long-standing commander of the Special Operations Unit (known also as the Red Berets) established by the Serbian security service, and twelve of his men, including Zvezdan Jovanovic charged with the actual killing. The trial, conducted before the Belgrade District Court, has been going on for three years; but although a verdict is expected soon, five of the accused have not been arrested, while others like Ulemek's closest collaborator Dusan Spasojevic were killed during the arrest. Ulemek himself was on the run until May 2, 2004. Soon after that he was sentenced to forty years in prison for the murder of the Serbian politician Ivan Stambolic, and to fifteen years in prison for participating in the murder of high ranking members of the Serbian Renewal Movement.
The trial for Djindjic's murder has proceeded in a somewhat strange atmosphere, especially since the snap elections of March 2004, when Djindjic's DS lost to Kostunica's DSS. The presiding judge Marko Kljajevic resigned unexpectedly half way through the trial, alleging constant pressures applied upon him. The new judge Nata Mesarevic has since conducted the trial efficiently and in the direction of severe sentencing. According to the latest trial related news Ulemek, the most important defendant in the case, has announced that he does not want to attend trial hearings anymore. After he had turned his back to the judges on several occasions, judge Mesarovic dismissed him and excused him from attending future trial hearings.
In order to appreciate Popovic's request, it is important to recall November 2001, when Ulemek's unit blocked access to Belgrade, apparently displeased by having had to participate in the arrest of two Bosnian Serbs, Nenad and Predrag Banovic, who were hiding in Serbia from The Hague Tribunal. The unit had arrested the Banovic brothers, but then rebelled against the authorities. Apparently, they did not know whom they were arresting. The unit demanded personnel changes at the top of the ministry of the interior (MUP) and especially in the secret service. Their demands were largely met, in that the chief of the secret service Goran Petrovic and his deputy Zoran Mijatovic were removed. Popovic insists that these changes removed the most important obstacle to the preparation of Zoran Djindjic's assassination.
Popovic refers to Kostunica for the first time when he requests that the current head of the security service Rade Bulatovic, the longstanding head of the military intelligence service General Aco Tomic, and a former official of the "Krajina" government in Croatia now living in Serbia, Borislav Mikelic, all be questioned. According to Djindjic's widow's attorney, it is necessary to establish whether Ulemek - alone or in Spasojevic's company - in the course of the armed rebellion in November 2001 met with the then military intelligence chief Aco Tomic and with Rade Bulatovic, who at that time was acting as security adviser to Vojislav Kostunica.
Popovic further reveals that Dragan Jocic, a DSS member and interior minister in Kostunica's government, tried to hide the fact that he had talked with Ulemek on the night of his surrender; and that, following this conversation but before Ulemek's appearance in court, Jocic, Bulatovic, Dejan Mihajlov (secretary general to Kostunica's government, and also from Kostunica's DSS) as well as Kostunica himself all stated that Ulemek's testimony would "reveal the full truth". Popovic points out that both Kostunica and Mihajlov, though qualified lawyers, identified Ulemek as "a witness" rather than as "the defendant".
Popovic further recalls that on June 4, 2004, General Tomic, while incarcerated in the Belgrade investigative prison on suspicion of "participating in a criminal conspiracy", received a letter from Kostunica in which the latter "essentially advised him to remain silent and take it". He further recalls that Kostunica's security adviser Bulatovic told [the Belgrade weekly] NIN in the March of 2002 that the changes forced by the Berets' rebellion had been a triumph of patriotism.
There follows a list of other similar statements by Kostunica. Popovic recalls Kostunica's declarations about Djindjic's "interesting and unorthodox connections", and his accusations that the late prime minister was a smuggler. Kostunica complained that Djindjic had endangered the constitutional order by surrendering Milosevic to The Hague. He even practically accused Djindjic's own government of being behind his assassination!? On July 5, 2003, Kostunica told the Belgrade weekly Vreme: "if men from the Red Berets are involved in Zoran Djindjic's murder, then it is the government which should be blamed for it, because they are its officials." It follows from this logic that Djindjic himself was responsible for his own death.
That is not all. The current Serbian prime minister has also repeated allegations made by his government colleague Dejan Mihajlov that Zoran Zivkovic (who replaced Djindjic as prime minister) and Boris Tadic the current Serbian president, both members of Djindjic's Democratic Party, "know well" who killed Djindjic.
It is undeniable that Kostunica insisted that for him The Hague Tribunal was of minimal importance. Also, the rebellion organized by Ulemek brought forward the same demands that Kostunica himself had stressed. Ulemek said, after all, that he had surrendered because he trusted Kostunica's government, unlike that led by Djindjic's collaborators.
Popovic finally quotes a series of statements in which the defendants referred to their meetings with Kostunica. Thus, for example, one of them, Pejakovic, declared after the meeting with Tomic, Mikelic and Bulatovic: "We won't tell Seselj that we've made contact with Kostunica". Another stated during the rebellion that "we won't give up until Kostunica tells us to". Numerous declarations by Petrovic also speak about the link between Kostunica and the Berets.
Popovic's proposal that, because of all the evidence outlined, Kostunica should be asked to testify in order to clarify "the circumstances of the act under investigation" failed, however, because the prosecutor considered it unnecessary to widen the scope of the trial at this stage. Even without that, however, Popovic's text is a political story of the first importance, revealing the coordination between the current prime minister, his collaborators and the "patriotic" forces aiming at Djindjic's overthrow. For how else can one account for all these "accidental" meetings and "indiscreet" statements, the fact that the current director of Serbian radio and television Aleksandar Tijanic has said that he knows the person who paid 50,000 euros to a special police unit - i.e. not the Berets but another formation - to kill Djindjic? This assertion is in fact identical with what Ulemek's defense lawyer has been saying.
Popovic's proposal, albeit unsuccessful in its formal aim, should at least provoke a political reaction. But since right now negotiations are taking place on the formation of a new government in which Kostunica could once again be prime minister, it is most likely that Popovic's work on this subject will be used by historians in some, distant and better future. That is, if that future ever arrives.
Original headline: "Legija iz Vojinog sinjela"