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Arkan Buried in Belgrade

January 20, 2000

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In a lavish funeral that melded military pomp and urban folk tradition, the reputed war criminal Arkan was buried Thursday amid reports that two suspects in his slaying have been arrested.

Pro-government media said the arrests should dispel rumors that President Slobodan Milosevic’s administration killed Arkan to keep him from linking national leaders to Balkan atrocities.

Milosevic’s party spokesman suggested that opposition leaders were ``twisted″ for linking the president to Arkan’s shooting Saturday at a Belgrade hotel.

Arkan, whose real name was Zeljko Raznatovic, commanded a fearsome militia nicknamed the ``Tigers.″ His ruthless tactics in Croatia and Bosnia led to war crimes charges, but his battlefield exploits and criminal record earned him a reputation for being a kind of Serbian Jesse James.

His popular appeal was apparent Thursday, as weeping men, women in mink coats and children clutching beeswax candles squeezed into the courtyard of New Cemetery, craning their necks for a glimpse of Arkan’s casket or his widow, the folk singer Ceca.

Six members of Arkan’s paramilitary group, dressed in pressed camouflage uniforms and maroon berets, stood as an honor guard at the coffin, while a black-veiled Ceca accepted the condolences of mourners.

His premier league soccer team also attended, as did ashen-faced business associates, some accompanied by bodyguards. No prominent members of the ruling establishment turned out, even though Arkan was once a member of the Serb parliament.

After the last rites, members of Arkan’s militia carried the coffin draped with his militia’s flag to a Mercedes-Benz hearse, leaving the hatch open so the hundreds of mourners could view the casket as it was driven to the gravesite.

People lining the graveyard road crossed themselves in Orthodox fashion as a wooden cross inscribed with Arkan’s name passed, flanked by his framed photograph in a World War I infantry officer’s uniform. A paramilitary colonel walked to the right of the cross, holding Arkan’s military decorations on a red velvet cushion.

A brass band played a death march. Militiamen fired a salute from their Kalashnikovs, defying an automatic weapons ban.

``I believe Arkan was a hero,″ said Dobrosav Lukic, 76. ``Milosevic killed him because he (Arkan) wanted to surrender himself to the Hague,″ the site of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.

``I came here for curiosity to see Ceca,″ said Milica Basic, straining to get a better view. ``I think he (Arkan) was a crook, but he fought for the Serbs as well ... I think his criminals killed him. Or the state did it. Who cares?″

After the Bosnia and Croatia wars, Arkan rose to become one of Serbia’s richest men, controlling interests in gambling and oil smuggling.

Rumors that the government organized Arkan’s killing because he was reportedly prepared to offer war crimes investigators evidence implicating Milosevic and other Yugoslav leaders have captivated the country for days. The government denied the reports again Thursday.

``Regardless of his controversial biography and discrepancies in assessment, he was a patriot,″ Socialist Party spokesman Ivica Dacic said.

Serbian newspapers, citing unidentified police sources, reported that a reputed accomplice wounded during the shootout had regained consciousness and is under arrest.

The newspaper Glas said information provided by the suspect, Dusan Gavric, led to the arrest of a second man as he tried to leave the country for Hungary.

The state-run Dnevnik daily, based in the city of Novi Sad near the Hungarian border, cited an unidentified police source as saying that Goran Jevtovic had been arrested in connection with Arkan’s slaying. Dnevnik said the arrest should eliminate all other ``gossip.″

Update hourly