Belgrade arrests 15 secret police over Djindjic killing

Vesna Peric Zimonjic
Friday 28 March 2003 01:00
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At least 15 members of the Special Operations Unit of the Serbian police have been arrested for allegedly organising the assassination of Zoran Djindjic, the Prime Minister, police sources said yesterday.

The unit, known as the JSO, was disbanded earlier this week after the arrest of Zvezdan Jovanovic, its deputy commander, who allegedly pulled the trigger in the killing.

Dusan Maricic, the unit's commander, was arrested on Tuesday for his alleged connections with the Zemun clan, an underworld gang blamed by the police for ordering the killing of Mr Djindjic.

The JSO, or "Red Berets", was the clandestine unit of the Serbian secret police. It was founded in 1991 under the auspices of Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia now on trial in The Hague for war crimes.

Its founders were two high-ranking secret police officials, Jovica Stanisic and Franco Simatovic. Both are in custody. The core of JSO was ordinary criminals and the unit ran more than 150 missions in Croatia and Bosnia, committing war crimes. The JSO was incorporated into the Serbian police force after the Dayton peace accord in 1995.

Meanwhile the crackdown on organised crime, launched by the government after the assassination of Mr Djindjic, has sent drugs prices soaring on the streets of Belgrade and many addicts are seeking medical help.

Selling drugs was the primary business of the Zemun clan, and it reportedly controlled 80 per cent of the market, supplying it with about 100kg of narcotics a month. Now the gang's drug dealing has been disrupted by raids and arrests of its members.

Doctors at the Belgrade Addiction Treatment Clinic said the number of patients with withdrawal symptoms had doubled since the killing of Mr Djindic on 12 March. At the same time, the price of one gram of heroinsurged to €80 (£55), while a gram of cocaine doubled to €200 (£140). A gram of cocaine in London costs about £60.

Pharmacies across Serbia have stepped up security measures, fearing raids by drug addicts looking for tranquillisers and other pills to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

There are 30,000 registered addicts in Belgrade, which has a population of about 1.5 million. But the real figure is believed to be much higher.

Serbia lies on an important transit route for drug smuggled from the Middle East to western Europe.

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