Serbs react to warlord's death with mixed feelings

BELGRADE, Jan 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) Some Belgraders on Sunday mourned the assassination of Serb paramilitary leader Arkan as the loss of a hero. Others said he had died as he had lived.

But few believed it was a straightforward mafia showdown.

"None of his enemies from the underground world would dare to fire 38 bullets into him in a crowded hotel lobby," said one young man who, like all those asked, did not give his name.

"Arkan was the last and the biggest of them all, plus he was a war hero. There must have been someone very powerful and probably untouchable, behind the murder," the man said.

Raznatovic, 47, was shot three times in the head on Saturday when a gunman or gunmen opened fire on him and his associates.

He died on the way to hospital. Police found 38 bullet casings at the scene, where two other men were fatally wounded. A source from police said the gunfire most probably came from an automatic weapon. The assassins escaped.

Arkan was wanted by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague for alleged atrocities by his paramilitary unit during wars in the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Bosnia from 1991 to 1995.

He was also wanted by the international police body Interpol for a series of bank robberies across Western Europe.

A hero and a criminal

In the view of Western leaders, he was merciless war crimes suspect whose death prevented them doing justice to the victims of his atrocities by putting him in the dock of the tribunal.

But perceptions of Arkan in Serbia differed dramatically from his image in the West. For some Serbs he was a folk hero who risked his life fighting their country's enemies. What else he did was not their concern.

Arkan was widely believed to have had close links to Yugoslav authorities headed by President Slobodan Milosevic, who has also been indicted by the U.N. tribunal.

Some thought the political establishment was to blame.

"They probably do not need him, that is why they killed him!" a man in his forties said on Sunday.

Several other people were reluctant to say anything about the killing, the latest in a string of assassinations of powerful figures, most of which have remained unsolved.

"It is hard for us ordinary people to understand what is going on. I would not like to comment on that. This is a very complex issue," said a middle-aged man.

"I have no comment!" said another.

A younger man said: "He was a mobster, he must have stepped on a few toes, he got what he deserved! He died as he lived - violently."

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