Djindjic suspects say they were tortured by Serbian police

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The Independent Online

Suspects rounded up after the assassination of Serbia's prime minister Zoran Djindjic have claimed they were tortured by Serbian police, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting said yesterday.

Testimonies gathered by the institute suggested that torture and other forms of mistreatment were routinely deployed to extract confessions during the five-week state of emergency that followed the killing on 12 March.

At least 10,000 people were detained in the round-up of those suspected of involvement in the crime. Police believed they had links with the violent gangs thought to have killed Djindjic. The institute spoke to a number of detainees who alleged that officers beat them.

Milan Vukovic, a restaurant owner from Belgrade, was arrested on 13 March. He said police drove him to an interior ministry building just outside the city. He said: "A group of five or six masked policemen tied my hands to a chair that was fixed to the floor, and put a plastic bag over my head.

"After a short while I used up all the air. The bag stuck to my face, and I started struggling for air. When it was obvious I was suffocating, they punctured the bag."

Mr Vukovic said his captors pressured him to admit he was trading in drugs, guns and cigarettes. He refused, and was released without being charged after a month in detention.

Another detainee, Mihajlo Colovic, said he planned to press charges against Dejan Joksimovic, the chief of police in the central Serbian town of Arandelovac. Mr Colovic said that Mr Joksimovic whipped him with a telephone cable, punched and kicked him and hit him with a baseball bat, in an attempt to get him to make an accusation against another man. Mr Colovic said that his eardrum was ruptured in the attack.

Another inmate's wife, Sandra Petrovic, recounted what her husband, Goran, told her. Police took him into a forest, put a plastic bag over his head and beat him up. He fainted twice. "I hardly recognised him," she said after seeing him at his first court hearing. "He had difficulty walking and had lost seven or eight kilograms."

Rasim Ljajic, Serbia Montenegro's minister for human and minority rights, said that in some cases people had been beaten during arrest - but that this was not on a large scale and did not constitute a systematic violation of human rights.