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The long arm of Milosevic reaches out to create havoc



Published: Fri, March 28, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Even while he is on trial for war crimes hundreds of miles away, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic continues to do damage to his country and its people

Zoran Djindjic, Serbia's courageous young prime minister, had defeated Milosevic at the polls in 2000 and, over the protestations of Milosevic loyalists, had allowed his extradition to The Hague, Netherlands, to be tried for war crimes.

Djindjic also declared war on the organized crime elements that had flourished in Serbia under Milosevic and pledged to arrest additional war crimes suspects wanted by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague.

A combination of those actions and promises made Djindjic a threat to a lot of people, people who were far more used to menacing others than feeling threatened.

Criminals acted

And now Djindjic is dead, gunned down two weeks ago as he got out of his armored car in front of his Belgrade headquarters. His death is a setback for Serbia and stability in the Balkans.

But the assassination has spurred an investigation that is shedding new light on the depth of the ties that existed between Milosevic's secret police and organized crime.

More than 3,000 people have been picked up for questioning in Djindjic's death, with about a third of those remaining in custody. The arrests have become more high profile in recent days, and have included Zvezdan Jovanovic, the deputy commander of the Unit for Special Operations, and about 15 other key members of the unit, which was a holdover from Milosevic's regime.

Two other major suspects, Dusan Spasojevic and Milan Lukovic, leaders of the Zemun Clan, a crime gang, were killed in a shoot out with police Thursday. The gang is believed to have organized the assassination.

Can't be ignored

The West is preoccupied with Iraq, but the Balkans cannot be ignored. The U.S.-led intervention was a success but the job is far from finished. U.S. and European forces are still necessary to keep Bosnian Serbs and Muslims from each other's throats. The status of Kosovo remains unresolved. And in formerly communist Serbia, democracy and a market economy are still new and fragile.

The West must work with Serbia's new leaders -- Djindjic left behind a cadre of like-minded followers -- to insure, with financial and political aid, that those reforms survive and that Serbia continues to pursue integration with Europe.

Serbia's future lies with Europe's prosperous democracies. The alternative is to relapse into a sullen, embittered and thwarted nationalism, which would be bad for the people, bad for Europe and bad for the world.




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