Serb Paramilitary Leader Killed
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Masked gunmen shot and killed a notorious Serb paramilitary leader on Saturday in the lobby of the Belgrade Intercontinental Hotel.
Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan, was taken to a hospital for emergency surgery, police said. A doctor at Belgrade’s emergency hospital, who asked not to be identified, said he had seen Arkan and that ``all vital functions had stopped.″
The official Tanjug news agency later confirmed that Arkan had died and that two others with him had been shot, including a bodyguard who was also killed. Other media reports said that his sister-in-law was wounded in the attack.
There was no word of arrests, suspects or a motive.
Witnesses differed on the number of assailants. Some said that Arkan was shot by a group of masked attackers. Others spoke of one gunman. The independent Studio B television network reported two attackers.
A source in the Intercontinental Hotel, who asked not to be named, said the gunmen escaped after at least one bullet hit Arkan in the eye while he was sitting in a sectioned-off part of the lobby.
Arkan, 47, and his paramilitary forces have been accused of involvement in atrocities during Serbia’s war with Croatia. Reputedly one of Serbia’s wealthiest individuals, Arkan was a longtime ally of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Arkan was indicted for war crimes in Bosnia in September 1997, but the indictment was kept under wraps until the NATO air campaign in the Balkans began in March. His paramilitary forces also have been accused of involvement in atrocities during the Croatian war, which broke out in 1991. Arkan’s forces sided with Serb rebels in both wars.
Full details of the charges have not been released, but former British Defense Minister George Robertson said last year that Arkan was indicted for the 1991 massacre of 250 men taken from a hospital in Vukovar, Croatia.
The tribunal made public his indictment in an apparent attempt to dissuade him from joining the Serb crackdown in Kosovo.
He denied involvement in war crimes.
Opposition leaders, reacting to the killing, alluded to Arkan’s link to Milosevic.
``Someone who knew a lot and took part in many things was killed,″ said Goran Svilanovic, a leader of the anti-Milosevic Civic Alliance, adding that Arkan ``was very close to the authorities, or so it seemed.″
Vladan Batic, also with the Civic Alliance said: ``Someone is pulling the strings and decides who’s going to be next.″
In London, the British Foreign Office issued a statement saying it had confirmed Arkan’s death. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said, ``Arkan lived violently so it is therefore no surprise that he died violently.″
``I regret his death because it prevents us doing justice to the victims of his atrocities by seeing him in the dock of at The Hague war crimes tribunal,″ the statement added.
Arkan’s long criminal record goes back to the 1970s and 1980s when he became a suspect in bank and jewelry store robberies in Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. In 1981 he managed to escape from a heavily guarded hospital room in Frankfurt. The international police, Interpol, issued three arrest warrants for him.
In the early 1980s, Arkan was reportedly recruited by Yugoslavia’s secret service to be an assassin in charge of killing dissidents living in the West, mostly Croats and Kosovo Albanians.
Working for Serbian police, Arkan was later in charge of organizing Belgrade soccer fans to cause trouble at stadiums in neighboring Croatia, which was seeking independence.
On the eve of Yugoslavia’s civil war in 1991, Arkan’s job was reputedly to deliver arms to Serbs living in Croatia and help their rebellion against the independence-seeking Croatian leadership.
In the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia that began in 1991, the Belgrade ice cream parlor owner made his fortune in black market currency trading, oil smuggling and arms dealing.
He owned a first division soccer club, Obilic, which was banned last year from all international competitions because of his links with war crimes.
His ``Tigers″ militia, meanwhile, became known for savagery.
During the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia, Arkan frequently warned the Atlantic Alliance against a land invasion, warning of fierce resistance.
Arkan married a popular Serbian folk singer, Ceca, in 1995 and had two children with her. In his previous two marriages, he had seven children. He and Ceca were frequent visitors to Belgrade’s Hyatt Hotel during the bombing, apparently fearing to stay at home and risk becoming a NATO target.