Liquidations in Belgrade

Balance Sheet Soaked with Blood

Philip Schwarm

TUE, 09 MAY 2000

Podgorica, 1 May, 2000 - In order to join in the game of circles where power and wealth are, the stake is – one's head. This is the achievement of the current regime and it applies equally to ministers and socialistic directors, as well as businessmen with dossiers in the police.

A special kind of war is going on in the streets of Belgrade. In the past two and a half months, professional murderers have liquidated two former para-military commanders with criminal careers, one minister, one director of the national air-line company, at least six prominent members of the underground and two policemen who were keeping them company. Contrary to the citizens, minister of internal affairs Vlajko Stojiljkovic and all the officials of the ruling coalition (SPS – JUL – SRS) are neither disturbed or excited. With absolutely no results of investigation, they readily and immediately proclaim all these murders terrorist acts of foreign intelligence services or mere showdowns among criminals – depending on whether the murdered person is from the regime circles or whether he has a police file. The word responsibility does not exist in their vocabulary.

The latest in the mentioned bloody series is Zoran Uskokovic alias Skole, businessman with a criminal background. He was murdered in the afternoon of 27 April in a spectacular rushing of cars in which fire from automatic weapons was exchanged by the victim and the murderers. On the same day, Zivorad Zika Petrovic, director general of Yugoslav Air Transportation and a friend of president of FRY Slobodan Milosevic, whose body was found riddled with bullets in the evening on 25 April in front of his house in Belgrade, was buried in Pozarevac. Nobody establishes a link between these two murders, but hardly anybody doubts that they are a part of the bloody cycle which has begun with the assassination of Arkan on 15 January in the Intercontinental Hotel.

Here are a few words about Skole. The public heard his name in the end of January when in certain media he was marked as the man who had organised the murder of the best known para-military commander on the territory of former SFRY, a man indicted by the Hague Tribunal and wanted by Interpol and one of the richest men in Serbia. After he had waited abroad for some time, for the "situation" to calm down, Skole returned to the country, publicly denying any involvement in Arkan's liquidation stressing that the police had not even interrogated him in this connection. However, persons from his surroundings and his friends were quickly disappearing: some were arrested or turned themselves in to the police because of the "case" of Arkan, and Zoran Davidovic Zanda and Ivan Stojanovic were killed in almost identical way as Uskokovic himself.

Skole's friend and business partner from Novi Sad Branislav Lainovic alias Dugi, former commander of Serb Guards and a man whose wealth was rapidly growing every day, was also killed. A few days before his death, Lainovic was also taken to the police for interrogation, according to his own words, about his knowledge of liquidation of Arkan.

At the moment Uskokovic is described as a businessman who, among other, owned a few restaurants in Western Europe, but also as the boss of the suddenly growing strong gang from Banjica and Miljakovac which is held responsible for various criminal acts and murders of some police officers.

It is known that he was suspected of murder of policeman Branimir Nesic in 1992 and that he spent a year and seven months in prison for that. Four days before his death, an explosive device went off in the building where he lived, and it is claimed that Zanda and Stojakovic were in fact liquidated by mistake – Uskokovic had in the last minute changed his mind and decided not to return from Lainovic's funeral in Novi Sad to Belgrade by the car they were shot in.

Zika Petrovic is from a completely different story. A member of the political team from Pozarevac, close friend of Milosevic family, he had the reputation of a typical Socialist director who did not distinguish himself particularly in any way, nor did he ever stick his neck out. It is true that JAT, like all the other economic pillars the regime relies on is in agony for quite some time and that it operates in the sphere of grey economy, but this is something that is self-understood in Serbia and it is a synonym for successfulness. And Zika Petrovic knew the rules of the game well, but also his place in it.

Ever since the cycles of ordered murders have started in 1991 in Belgrade, the police cannot brag of having caught a single direct perpetrator, least of all those who had ordered the crime, or of having clarified the motives of any of these crimes. The exception which confirms the rule is policeman Dobroslav Gavric suspected of having killed Arkan, but as time passes the impression intensifies that the whole case is silently sinking into dust of court archives. The public has nothing to rely on but its common sense and assumptions.

It was noticed that after Arkan's murder the techniques of Belgrade ambushes has changed. The victim is nowadays attacked in a moving car from another car (Mirko Tomic alias Bosanac on 14 February; Radoslav Trlajic, alias Bata Trlaja, on 25 February; Zanada and Stojanovic on 23 March), and AK-47 (Kalasnykov) is replacing the heckler (all the listed murders plus minister of defence Pavle Bulatovic were murdered with this weapon). The explanation is that the potential victims have become much more cautious and that it has become difficult to approach them in the way they were approached before, so "Kalash" is applied because of the need for a stronger bullet required by the new technique. The murderers have at least in three cases left the weapon (Kalashnykov guns are easily found) and destroyed their own cars; Belgrade liquidations have acquired a new "image".

If in case of Skole one can speak of a gangster showdown and a new division of power after Arkan's death, but what can one say about the liquidation of minister Bulatovic and Zika Petrovic? Hardly anyone believes the prompt statements of bigwigs that these are cases of terrorism, because their public speech is swarming with terrorists and foreign mercenaries: they use this vocabulary to speak about the opposition leaders and journalists and all the citizens who in different ways publicly express a negative attitude towards the regime. That is why all kinds of assumptions are spreading about the motives of the murder of the director of JAT. According to ones Zika Petrovic was murdered because he advocated privatisation of the national airline, according to others the whole affair is an inside job caused by some shady business deals in JAT, there are also those who speak of a big purge within the establishment. People also mention oil, smuggling of various commodities which are in short supply, a conflict between different lobbies Petrovic had been caught in the middle of without even being aware of it… One thing is certain: hardly anyone has any hope that the investigation will reveal anything.

In the core of the matter is the very nature of the current regime in Serbia. It is the result of systematic destruction of institutions, economic sanctions, general and complete impoverishment, management of the state only in the interest of preservation of power, catastrophic policy of wars and opposing of modern world trends, which created a social organism which, on the eve of settling accounts, is metastasizing and eating itself. No laws, no courts are of any use; the only thing that resolves inevitable conflicts of interest in the political, economic, criminal jungle are murderers with "Kalashes". The stake in order to join in the game in the circles where power and wealth are is – one's head. This equally refers to ministers and red directors and businessmen with dossiers in the police. And to what extent they are all merged in a single inextricable tangle is testified by the fact that the suspected murderer of Arkan and the murdered bodyguard of Skole were – policemen.

Original article