Vlajko Stojiljkovic

Police chief and loyal friend to Milosevic
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The Independent Online

Vlajko Stojiljkovic, politician: born Mala Krsna, Yugoslavia 1937; Serbian Interior Minister 1997-2000; died Belgrade 13 April 2002.

Vlajko Stojiljkovic, Interior Minister of Serbia until 2000, belonged to the closest circle of the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. He was known for his endless loyalty to Milosevic and his cruelty towards all who opposed him. Yet, faced with possible extradition to the international tribunal in The Hague, to be charged with war crimes in Kosovo in 1999, he chose to kill himself instead of joining his friend on trial. It remains unclear whether Milosevic will view this as an act of bravery or betrayal.

Born in 1937, Stojiljkovic graduated from Belgrade Law School and more or less made his career in Pozarevac, Milosevic's hometown, some 100km east of Belgrade. He was not a popular figure, and even his comrades in Milosevic's Socialist Party viewed Stojiljkovic as rigid, and not too bright.

For many years, he was the head of the Pozarevac police, chief of police of the eastern Serbian region and ran one of the biggest prisons in Serbia, Zabela, situated on the outskirts of Pozarevac. There were a few short intervals in his police career when he headed Serbian or Yugoslav chambers of commerce in the early 1990s. As Milosevic's trusted friend, Stojiljkovic was appointed Interior Minister in 1997. He resigned from the post after Milosevic fell from power in 2000.

The two spent a lot of time together in Pozarevac, where the Milosevic family resided at weekends and holidays. Vlajko and "Sloba" would play chess together, or go fishing on the banks of the Danube. It was under Stojiljkovic's scrutiny that Milosevic's son Marko developed a business empire in Pozarevac and became the notorious lord of the town. Milosevic junior fled the country after his father's fall from power.

It was also under Stojiljkovic's lead that the Serbian police turned into a brutal force, with the special aim of fighting rebellious ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province. The police became an efficient tool against the opponents of Milosevic's regime in the period that preceded his fall from power. Both were viewed by Stojiljkovic with hatred.

Excessive force was the trademark of his career as minister in charge of police. He demanded total obedience and was rigid in planning and executing actions. The Serbian police force did whatever it wanted in the southern province of Kosovo from 1998 onwards, when the armed rebellion of ethnic Albanians and their Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) started. Any resistance was branded "terrorism" by Milosevic's regime. In the 11 weeks of Nato air raids against Serbia in 1999, the actions of the Serbian police against ethnic Albanians looked like an open manhunt. Some former top officials say today that it was Stojiljkovic who insisted on harsh measures against "terrorists" in Kosovo, "to teach them a lesson for good".

The actions of the Serbian security forces in the province left at least 10,000 ethnic Albanians dead. The bodies of victims of mass executions were transferred to Serbia proper at the time of Nato air raids, in refrigerator trucks that were later dumped into rivers. Further, 800,000 ethnic Albanians were forced to leave their homes and seek shelter in neighbouring Albania and Macedonia. Stojiljkovic always described these reports as "fabrications".

Two years ago, when the Serbian opposition joined ranks to topple Milosevic in the elections, Stojiljkovic used the forces at his disposal to quell rebellion at home. Activists in the student movement Otpor (Resistance) were arrested and severely beaten by the police, street protests were met with disproportionate and unnecessary force. Cordons of anti-riot police in places around Serbia where anti-Milosevic protests were being held became a commonplace. As did being beaten.

Stojiljkovic allowed the Serbian mafia to flourish and several assassinations or assassination attempts against Milosevic's opponents took place. Vaults that were at the disposal of the notorious security service held more than 500kg of cocaine, ready to be sold in the streets of Serbia. As police minister, Stojiljkovic must have known about all these things. He was in charge of both branches of the ministry – dealing with public security and the secret service.

But all this became history on 5 October 2000, when a popular uprising swept Milosevic from power. Seeing that several hundred thousand people, from all over Serbia, had taken to the streets of Belgrade in the biggest ever anti- Milosevic protest, the Serbian police became practical; they decided to disobey orders and not to shoot at the protesters.

But Stojiljkovic had other ideas. Witnesses say he was unaware that the protests were on such a large scale. He gave orders from his cabinet, over the phone, contacting the most important police generals. One of his ideas was that police helicopters should be used to drop toxic chemicals to disperse protesters in front of the federal parliament building. The chopper crews decided not carry out the order. By the end of the dramatic day, Milosevic was ousted. People who know Stojiljkovic say that he could not believe it, on that day, or for months afterwards.

Stojiljkovic chose the entrance of the federal parliament building in which to shoot himself last Thursday. As an MP of Milosevic's party, he was leaving parliament after a new law allowing further extraditions to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague had just been passed. In his suicide note, he said that the Serbian police were honourable men and that "the defenders of the country" who fought against "terrorism and Nato" should not be extradited to the tribunal, as they were heroes. He believed himself to be one of them.

Vesna Peric Zimonjic

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