YU defense minister shot dead in Belgrade

BELGRADE, Feb 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic was shot dead by an unidentified attacker in a Belgrade restaurant late on Monday, the government said.

The minister, 51, a Montenegrin who had held his portfolio since 1993, was seen as loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

He was a senior member of Montenegro's Socialist People's Party, which is in opposition to the Western-leaning leadership of the coastal republic, an increasingly reluctant partner to Serbia in their joint Yugoslav federation.

Soon after the shooting, the Yugoslav government went into emergency session and then issued a statement saying Bulatovic was the victim of a terrorist act.

"The Federal government states with deepest sorrow and sadness that Pavle Bulatovic, federal minister of defense, was killed this evening in Belgrade," the statement said.

"Minister Bulatovic is a victim of a classical terrorist act," it said. "The Federal government gives full support to the relevant state organs in their uncompromising struggle against terrorism."

Serbian opposition leaders struggling to oust Milosevic said the killing showed the need to introduce change in Yugoslavia, isolated by the West over its role in a series of Balkan wars.

New names on growing list of unsolved murders

The shooting was carried out less than a month after the murder of feared Serb warlord Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic, who died in a hail of bullets in a Belgrade hotel lobby on January 15.

The two killings add new names to a growing list of mostly unsolved murders of politicians, businessmen and senior police officers in Belgrade over the last decade which have coincided with the violent collapse of old socialist Yugoslavia.

Police said the killer struck at 18:55 p.m. (1755 GMT), firing through the window of the Rad restaurant, which is situated in a soccer stadium.

"The unknown attacker shot from an automatic weapon through a restaurant window," a police statement, carried by the official Tanjug news agency, said. It added that the shooting came from the direction of the pitch.

Two other men sitting at the same table were lightly wounded and were taken to a military hospital nearby, Yugoslav agencies reported. One of them was a bank director and the other the manager of the restaurant.

There were no reports of anyone shooting back.

A Reuters photograph from the restaurant showed bullet holes in the wall behind the table where Bulatovic and the two men had been sitting, the white tablecloth stained with blood.

A friend close to Bulatovic's family earlier told Reuters: "He is dead and we are all in shock."

Bulatovic frequently visited the Rad restaurant, the friend said, adding: "He felt at home there."

A Reuters cameraman said police had sealed off the street outside the restaurant. Military police were also at the scene.

Social democracy leader Vuk Obradovic said Serbia had turned into a society where no citizen felt safe, calling on Milosevic and his government to resign.

Another opposition leader, Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party, said the killing was the result of the generally abnormal situation in the country.

"It has become a rule to solve conflicts by murders," Djnidjic said. "The only solution to this is to establish the rule of law, to remove the source of legal chaos and that means to change the regime."

Braca Grubacic, editor of the influential VIP newsletter, said he did not see a connection between the killings of Arkan and Bulatovic. "This is not the same story, as I can see it."

Police say they have arrested several people in connection with Arkan's killing, but have not given any details of the possible motive.

Grubacic expressed concern that Bulatovic's murder could further increase tension in Montenegro and spark other killings.

Bulatovic was born in the Montenegrin village of Gornji Rovci in the northern part of the tiny republic.

His party is in opposition in Montenegro but in government at the federal Yugoslav level. He was married and had three children.

Original article