Belgrade sees Western role in assassination

BELGRADE, Feb 10, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Belgrade government official said on Wednesday he suspected Western involvement in this week's murder of Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic, gunned down in a Belgrade restaurant.

Serbian Deputy Information Minister Miodrag Popovic said he believed the aim was to provoke a civil war-like situation in which U.S.-sponsored politicians "could crawl into power."

"When there is a plot to destabilize a country or to create a situation that is going to take that country to civil war then the defense minister is the right person to kill," he said.

"I think you will agree," Popovic told Reuters, adding that the alleged attempt would not succeed.

Popovic presented no evidence to back up his allegations.

Yugoslav Serb officials regularly accuse the United States of plotting to destroy the country and they brand opposition politicians as Western puppets.

Earlier on Wednesday, a newspaper reported that a Yugoslav government minister had said organized terrorism dictated from abroad was behind Monday's killing of Bulatovic.

"Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic told Danas that the murder of Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic was part of a chain of organized terrorism dictated from abroad," the independent daily Danas said in a front-page article.

"I was saying already in October that a chain of subversive terrorist acts had been planned and stimulated from abroad, aimed at undermining confidence of ordinary people in our country and their own safety," Danas quoted him as saying.

West sees other possible culprits in murder

Officials and analysts in the West say the murder may have been an attempt by a paramilitary or organized crime gang to strike at Milosevic, possibly in revenge for the assassination of Serbian warlord Zeljko Arkan Raznatovic last month.

Serbian opposition leaders blamed Arkan's death on Milosevic's security services.

Bulatovic's death might even have been intended to eliminate a potential witness in any international war crimes trial of Milosevic, since the self-effacing defense minister, in office since 1993, knew much about the Yugoslav forces' crackdown in Kosovo and help for the Bosnian Serbs, a NATO diplomat said.

Bulatovic, from Serbia's smaller sister republic of Montenegro, was shot dead by an unidentified attacker on Monday, the latest in 10 years of high-profile killings in the capital.

He was a member of Montenegro's Socialist People's Party and a loyal, low-profile aide to Yugoslav federal President Slobodan Milosevic. Belgrade said on Monday the murder was an act of terrorism, but did not say who it believed was behind it.

Popovic said he did not like to speculate, "but from what I read from British and American press I very much suspect that it was to some extent sponsored or even masterminded in the corridors of let's say Brussels (NATO headquarters) or even Washington," he said. "All fingers the West."

Popovic said Bulatovic was respected and had no enemies.

Serbian vow to 'catch the terrorists'

He said he had been an easy target since he did not have bodyguards and everybody knew that he frequented the restaurant where he was shot dead.

"We are going to catch the terrorists or the terrorist and we are going to trace it back to the patron, to the one who is masterminding the whole thing," Popovic said.

Two junior partners in Milosevic's ruling coalition accused Western intelligence services of being involved in the killing.

The Yugoslav Left (JUL) said the United States and NATO were responsible, referring to last year's air war against Belgrade.

"They are trying to compensate for the military and moral defeat they suffered in Yugoslavia, by organizing mercenaries to commit individual acts of terrorism," a JUL statement said.

The ultra-nationalist Radicals took a similar line. "Western secret services are trying to intimidate state officials opposed to NATO's intention to occupy Yugoslavia," they said in a statement.

The political opposition said Serbia was sliding into chaos.

The independent daily Glas said the murder was a mystery.

"Regardless of motives, this state is ruled by fear, which has not bypassed even the most powerful ones," it said in a commentary, adding that everybody was a potential target.

Original article