Judges in fear for their lives as Djindjic murder trial resumes

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The Independent Online

The trial of the alleged assassins of Serbia's pro-reform prime minister Zoran Djindjic, resumes today amid increasing doubts that the truth about his murder will ever be established.

The trial of the alleged assassins of Serbia's pro-reform prime minister Zoran Djindjic, resumes today amid increasing doubts that the truth about his murder will ever be established.

Judges in the high-profile case have received anonymous threats and fear for their lives, while the private vehicles of some prosecutors have been damaged in recent months.

The main people accused deny any involvement in the murder which that practically brought Serbia's badly needed reforms to a standstill.

Mr Djindjic, the first non-communist prime minister of Serbia since the Second World War, died on 12 March 2003 from a single sniper bullet through his heart. He was killed in front of a government building. An investigation blamed a crime gang which called itself the Zemun clan. One of its leaders is Milorad Lukovic, known as Legija, the commander of the notorious "Red Berets" which formed the secret police unit of Slobodan Milosevic. They were notorious for atrocities against non-Serbs in wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The Red Berets were disbanded only after the assassination of Mr Djindjic.

The trial opened last December but dragged on for months because the prime suspect, Mr Lukovic, was on the run. Only six out of 15 accused were available to the court.

Mr Lukovic surrendered to the authorities in May, claiming to have been hiding at his Belgrade home since March last year. In his first appearance at the Special Court in Belgrade in June, he said he had nothing to do with the assassination.

The threats against judges came days before that. They were not verbal but were clear enough. Judges received bouquets of red roses -a symbol of the Red Berets - at their homes. Mr Lukovic has one tattooed on his neck.

"These events can be understood as a threat to the court," said its spokeswoman Maja Kovacevic, who added that she was not aware of special protective measures for the judges and prosecution.

Further light may be shed on the Djindjic assassination later this month if another prime suspect is extradited from Greece. Dejan Milenkovic, who is accused of providing back-up and logistical aid to Mr Lukovic, was arrested two months ago in Thessalonika. He had been on the run since March 2003.

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