Evidence mounts against Milosevic on assassination charges

Thursday, April 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Branka Prpa will always remember the night a hail of bullets struck her companion, an outspoken critic of Slobodan Milosevic.

``The bullets were hitting all around us,'' she said. ``His hand just slipped from mine, and he didn't utter a sound.''

Such were the dying moments of Serb publisher Slavko Curuvija, who fell in a spray of automatic-weapons fire as he and Prpa walked toward their Belgrade apartment on April 11, 1999.

Curuvija's killing amid NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia was just one in more than a dozen high-profile murders, attempted assassinations and kidnappings that shook the country in the last months of Milosevic's 13-year rule.

Now Milosevic is in jail, arrested on suspicion of corruption and abuse of power. Investigations are now focusing on much more serious charges, including his alleged role in such killings.

``Now that Milosevic is behind bars, the Pandora's box of his crimes is about to open,'' Prpa, a historian, said Wednesday.

Other prominent unresolved cases include Ivan Stambolic, whom Milosevic toppled as Serbian president in 1988 and who disappeared last Aug. 25, and Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznatovic-Arkan _ a potential war crimes witness against Milosevic _ who was gunned down in January 2000.

Investigations also focus on a list of 40 pro-democracy figures _ including Milosevic's successor Vojislav Kostunica _ who were rumored to be on a hit list of people targeted for execution on the night the former president was toppled in a popular revolt on Oct. 5. Existence of the list was confirmed by Milosevic's top generals, although they did not publicly link him to it.

Dusan Mihajlovic, the post-Milosevic police chief, said the investigations will take two to three months because several police documents were destroyed by pro-Milosevic police officers soon after the October revolt.

``The judicial process will prove that Milosevic was not a national hero ... but a man who allowed the robbery of his people and their liquidation,'' Mihajlovic said.

For those close to the victims, there is no doubt who ordered the trigger pulled.

``I never had any doubts that the secret service was behind Curuvija's murder,'' Prpa told The Associated Press. ``The secret service was under direct Milosevic command, and its former chief (Rade Markovic) did not make the decisions alone.''

Markovic, a potential key witness who could implicate Milosevic as the one who ordered the political murders and kidnappings, was jailed Feb. 24 in the attempted assassination of an opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said Markovic was cooperating with investigators and may link Milosevic to several murder cases. Djindjic said Milosevic's wife could also be implicated.

Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic _ who is not related to the former secret police chief _ railed bitterly against Curuvija only a few days before his murder. On the eve of the start of NATO airstrikes she claimed he had ``invited'' the alliance to bomb Yugoslavia ``to teach Serbians a lesson.''

Curuvija, who worked for the secret service as an analyst in the 1980s, was once close to Milosevic and his wife before turning into one of their most influential critics. In 1999, he predicted their downfall unless they introduced major democratic reforms.

Prpa recently acquired a three-page police surveillance document that details how she and Curuvija walked through downtown Belgrade, meeting friends _ who were later followed by plainclothes agents _ and having lunch in a restaurant.

The report said the surveillance ended minutes before Curuvija was shot and was ordered curtailed so ``the three assassins could not be seen'' by the plainclothes agents.

The secret police had different teams performing different assignments, with one squad often unaware of the tasks of other units.

Prpa said Mihajlovic has confirmed the authenticity of the document.

``I had no doubt that the document was authentic,'' Prpa says. ``Only I had known what we did together that last day and did not tell it to anyone else.''