Secret police chief charged with Djindjic murder

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Forty-four people, including the former head of a notorious police unit, were charged yesterday in connection with the assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

At the top of the list of 15 people directly indicted for the assassination is Milorad Lukovic "Legija", the former commander of the secret police Special Operations Unit (JSO).

Mr Djindjic was shot outside government buildings in Belgrade on 12 March, as he left his car. A single sniper bullet went through his heart.

The slain premier was the architect of the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000 and his extradition to the UN war crimes tribunal in 2001.

Mr Lukovic, believed to have masterminded the assassination together with the leaders of an organised crime syndicate known as the Zemun Clan, is still at large.

Zvezdan Jovanovic, also a member of JSO and singled out as the man who allegedly killed Djindjic, was arrested only days after the assassination. The gun he is alleged to have used was also retrieved after a short while.

The secret police unit, known as the Red Berets, became notorious for its war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia a decade ago.

The special prosecutor's office said that the indictments against those named yesterday include, besides the assassination of Mr Djindjic, terrorism, abductions, criminal association and other serious crimes. Some of the indictees have several charges brought against them and some will be tried in absentia, the office said.

The trials are expected to begin next month in Belgrade. They will be held at a special courtnow under construction in the capital. The courtroom will resemble those used in trials of Italian Mafia bosses, with strict security.

In another development, a special commission of the Serbian government dealing with the security surrounding Mr Djindjic presented its findings yesterday. It concluded that the assassination was facilitated by severe breaches in security, which it blamed on remnants of the Milosevic regime in the police and judiciary.