Bloody feuds behind death of Milosevic ally

The assassination of Zika Petrovic, head of Yugoslav Airlines and a close associate of President Slobodan Milosevic, has demonstrated that the bloody feuds which have rocked Serbia's ruling elite since last year's Nato air campaign are far from settled.

Mr Petrovic was gunned down as he walked his dog in central Belgrade on Tuesday night, in an attack that authorities yesterday blamed on "terrorists". Police said that "unknown assailants" sprayed him with at least 10 bullets from an automatic rifle, just a few hundred metres from the city police headquarters.

It was the latest in a series of high-profile murders. The Yugoslav Defence Minister, Pavle Bulatovic, was gunned down in February and a month earlier, the notorious paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic, or Arkan, was shot in a hotel.

The gunmen who killed Mr Petrovic apparently used silencers, as a group of men sitting in a nearby kiosk were unaware of any shots being fired. Police were called only after two passers-by reported finding a body on the pavement.

Officers at the scene were quickly joined by Rade Markovic, the head of the State Security Service and a high-ranking official in JUL, the political party controlled by Mira Markovic, Mr Milosevic's wife.

Mr Petrovic also belonged to the JUL, which controls all the most profitable remaining sectors of the Serbian economy. As the head of Yugoslav Airlines (JAT), he was banned by the EU from travelling abroad. His murder has come amid growing lawlessness in Serbia, where shady business deals often involve both government officials and criminal gangs.

Much of the black economy revolves around the smuggling of petrol and cigarettes. It also involves money being taken out of the country, in an apparent effort by the ruling group to secure their future abroad. Lack of visible motives for the cycle of assassinations has fuelled speculation in Belgrade that powerful clans are fighting within themselves for dominance of businesses or large privatisation schemes that bring high commissions.

Earlier this month, one of the highest officials of the JUL, Dojcilo Maslovaric, a friend of Ms Markovic and the Yugoslav ambassador to the Vatican, refused to return to the country after his term ended and sought asylum in Italy. He allegedly took part in negotiations over the 1997 sale of 49 per cent of Serbian Telecom to the Italian STET and Greek OTE companies. The deal was worth almost $1bn at the time, with several million allegedly ending up in Mr Maslovaric's pocket. Ten days ago, Mr Maslovaric was expelled from the JUL.

Last month, Mr Petrovic announced JAT's privatisation and the modernisation of its fleet. He became its director in 1992, a little before an international flight ban was imposed. He was born in Pozarevac, the home town of both Mr Milosevic and Mr Markovic.

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