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news 20 Jun 14

Serbia PM Announces Purge of Police Chiefs

While the Prime Minister says police chiefs have failed to curb drugs gangs, experts say his ruling Progressive Party is mainly interested in taking political control of law enforcement.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade

In a purported drive to clean up the police, Serbia's Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, on Friday said the heads of all the police units would be removed.

Milorad Veljovic, head of the Serbian Police, will stay on, however. "He would have also been dismissed had he not been selected by competition," Vucic said.

The decision was taken in accordance with the initiative of the Interior Ministry to which Veljovic reportedly gave his approval.

"I was looking for results in the fight against drug cartels, but the people in the police were more interested in some internal things," Vucic said, referring to his dissatisfaction with results of police actions in combating drug cartels.

President Tomislav Nikolic, who comes from the ranks of Vucic's ruling Progressive Party, backed the changes, saying they were needed to support the fight against crime.

"I call on the government to appoint honest crime fighters and ensure that those responsible are doing the job they are entrusted with," Nikolic said earlier on Friday.

While the government says it only wants to clean house, Milos Vasic, an expert on organised crime, said the purge was "politically motivated” and had little to do with appointing more honest officers.

"This is an attempt by officials to take control of the most important police unit – the criminal unit," Vasic told BIRN.

The purge was not unexpected, after the government set up a working group to investigate claims that Rodoljub Milovic, head of police's criminal department, had ties to criminal circles.

Among other things, he is accused of having ties top the notorious so-called Zemun criminal gang, which flourished in the 1990s, several members of which were jailed in connection with the murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindic in 2003.

The accusations are deeply controversial, however, as they come from Darko Saric, an alleged drug lord currently on trial for trafficking cocaine.

In response to the accusations, police chief Milovic took a lie detector test voluntarily, the result of which on Thursday indicated that he was telling the truth.

Vuk Cvijic, a journalist specialising in police and crime, questioned the legality of probe based on claims coming from an alleged drugs baron.

He added that the probe also appeared to be being conducted through tabloid media close to the ruling party.

"Independent institutions are being destroyed this way and now every policeman who was involved in some arrest can be targeted by those same criminals," Cvijic told BIRN.

The government insists it is carrying out reforms of the police in line with EU membership accession chapters 23 and 24, which deal with justice, freedom and security. Serbia officially started EU accession talks in January this year.

Two police chiefs have already been dismissed this month – Dragisa Simic, the head of traffic police, and Milos Perovic, the head of the unit for witness protection.

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