Murder of a war criminal

Arkan: Rumors of who ordered the killing highlight Serbia's isolation, and Milosevic's.

January 23, 2000

IF motive were guilt, suspects in the assassination of Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, would number in the millions.

Few mourned after he was gunned down in a posh Belgrade hotel last weekend. There are Western European victims of the bank robberies he was accused of committing in the 1980s. And Croatian Catholics, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians whose kin were slain and tortured by Arkan's private "Serb National Guard" and its elite "Tigers" in Yugoslavia's wars of the 1990s.

But none of these is suspect in the Serbian popular mind. Government spokesmen have had to deny that the secret police did it because few Serbs can imagine anyone else getting away with such a thing in public view.

Spokesmen are adamant the death was not ordered by Yugoslavia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, who employed Arkan.

While it is not safe for Serbs to say so, that's who many suspect. Not that they know.

The rumor is that Arkan felt the world closing in and had sent feelers to prosecutors at the international tribunal for Yugoslav war crimes in The Hague, Netherlands. For leniency, he would blow the whistle on Mr. Milosevic for ordering atrocities.

There is no confirmation from the international tribunal. But NATO and the United Nations and the human rights movement are unhappy Arkan is dead. They had hoped he would be taken alive and persuaded to sing.

Now Mr. Milosevic's apologists denounce the late Arkan as a killer, while Arkan's loyalists voice suspicions of the government.

Mr. Milosevic is free of a potentially damaging witness, but more isolated than ever. He is an indicted war criminal while his nemesis, Croatia, is moving toward democracy and the bosom of Europe.

Serbia's era of government by organized crime appears to be entering its own macabre twilight.

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