News 25 Sep 13

Serbian Police Unit Was ‘Killer Crime Gang’

A former Serbian government official told the trial of ex-members of the interior ministry’s feared Special Operations Unit that it was a murderous criminal organisation.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Opposition politician Cedomir Jovanivic / Photo: Beta

Former government official Cedomir Jovanovic, now the leader of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, told the Belgrade trial of eight former members of the Special Operations Unit (JSO) on Tuesday that the notorious armed police squad was involved in a series of killings culminating in the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003.

The former JSO officers are on trial for an alleged armed rebellion in 2001, which Jovanovic alleged was a precursor to Djindjic’s murder.

“It is indisputable that the JSO rebellion was a prelude to destabilise the country, which resulted directly in the murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic,” said Jovanovic, who in 2001 was vice-president and a close associate of the murdered premier.

The men on trial are JSO commander Milorad Ulemek, Zvezdan Jovanovic, Dusan Maricic, Veselin Lecic, Dragoslav Krsmanovic, Dragisa Radic, Vladimir Pocic and Mica Petrakovic.

In November 2001, they blocked a main street in the Serbian capital and the road to the town of Vrbas, allegedly because the newly-installed democratic government had sent two JSO members, brothers Nenad and Predrag Banovic, to stand trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

However Jovanovic claimed that their intentions were much more serious.

“The real reason for the rebellion was not what they say was the illegal arrest of the ICTY defendants, but an attempt to hide the criminal activities of the unit. That is why they demanded the removal of state security officials Goran Petrovic and Zoran Mijatovic, because they started to investigate the unit’s illegal actions prior to [the uprising against the government of Slobodan Milosevic on] October 5th [2000],” Jovanovic said.

“[Petrovic and Mijatovic] arrested their former boss Rade Markovic, solved the killings of some political officials and found the locations of numerous mass graves. That is why they were perceived as trouble by the unit,” he continued.

Jovanovic said that the alleged 2001 rebellion was staged in cooperation with then president Vojislav Kostunica with the aim of “humiliating and at a later stage getting rid of [pro-Western reformist PM] Djindjic”.

Ulemek and Jovanovic have already been convicted of killing Djindjic.

The JSO was formed in the 1990s on Milosevic’s orders and run by Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, who have been acquitted of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal.

The JSO carried out secret operations for the state and allegedly committed mass murders during the conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. It was disbanded in 2003.

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