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Milosevic Friend Gunned Down

April 26, 2000

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Why him? That’s what people in Belgrade were asking Wednesday after an ally of President Slobodan Milosevic was gunned down in the latest gangland-style slaying involving a prominent Serbian figure.

The slain director of the state airline, Zika Petrovic, was not an obvious target: He was no Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan _ the flamboyant warlord who was gunned down in a plush Belgrade hotel in January.

He wasn’t believed to be a rich mobster: Guys with nicknames like ``The Monkey,″ ``The Club,″ and ``The Rifle Butt″ have been killed over the past few years.

Nor was he a ranking military or police figure, like Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic, who was shot last February _ or Deputy Interior Minister Radovan Stojcic, who was killed in 1997.

The latest victim didn’t even have a bodyguard: He was killed while walking his dog Tuesday night. The assailants used automatic weapons with silencers.

Despite being a close friend of President Slobodan Milosevic and his wife, Mira Markovic, Petrovic never played a big role in politics. His name was never publicly tied to any of the numerous scandals linked to Milosevic’s regime.

Serbia’s justice minister accused foreign powers of being behind the killing. Markovic’s neo-communist party went even further, claiming Petrovic was targeted by NATO countries that ``cowardly bombed our country,″ in reference to last year’s air campaign that ended Milosevic’s oppression of the ethnic Albanian majority in the southern Serb province of Kosovo.

Opposition groups, however, said the slaying illustrates growing lawlessness in the country, and murky connections between government officials, the underworld and the police.

``There are 120,000 policemen in Serbia who are guarding 120 ruling politicians and their undemocratic regime,″ the opposition New Democracy party said in a statement. ``The lives of the other 9 million Serbs are not worth a penny.″

Gen. Momcilo Perisic, a former chief of staff of Milosevic’s army and now an opposition politician, said there were 500 unsolved murders since 1990 in Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic. That number includes the latest spate of gang-type slayings.

The crime surge in Serbia coincides with the regime’s lost battles in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo as well as the return home of thousands of Serb paramilitary members _ many of whom are accused of war crimes. The ex-fighters are now unemployed and, often, without hope.

``This shows the inefficiency of the security system, and that’s why this regime has to leave the political scene,″ Perisic said.

Mladen Lojovic, a former police inspector and now a private detective, said the motive for Petrovic’s killing can be summed up in a proverb: ``Dead men tell no tales.″

Both Petrovic and Bulatovic, who was killed in a Belgrade restaurant in February, had no bodyguards, because they ``felt safe″ _ thinking their ``loyalty″ to the regime was enough, Lojovic said.

``But they could not even imagine that the state has its apparatchiks for one-time use,″ Lojovic said.

After Tuesday’s shooting, an opposition leader called for the resignation of Serbia’s interior minister, Vlajko Stojiljkovic.

``It’s absurd that there have never been more policemen in Serbia and never so little security,″ said Nebojsa Covic, the leader of the opposition Democratic Alternative.

With living standards dropping steadily during Milosevic’s 10-year reign, and with salaries the equivalent of $45 a month, a hired killer costs no more than $300 ``per job,″ said an underworld figure who spoke on condition of %mark_on(%)anonymity%mark_off(%).

``It’s enough that someone with money doesn’t like you, or your wife is angry because she discovered you found a lover,″ he said. ``You may be gone for cheap in Serbia.″

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