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Accident Or Assassination Bid? - A Field Day For Conspiracy Theorists

Vuk Draskovic is certain that Sunday's miraculous escape from a car crash Sunday that killed four of his colleagues was an attempted assassination. Speculation that it could drive Draskovic into the arms of the opposition is rising.
By Milenko Vasovic

On Sunday Serbia's political iconoclast Vuk Draskovic miraculously escaped death in a car crash that killed four colleagues. Was it an attempted assassination?


Draskovic himself says yes, and if evidence continues to mount, the opposition's challenge to the Serbian regime will take on new force.


There is no doubt that the opposition will accuse forces working for Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic of trying to kill Draskovic, who despite his past support for the regime, remains its most influential potential opponent.


Should Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement party (SPO) side with the Alliance for Changes (SZP), the latter's campaign of nationwide anti-regime protests could redouble in support.


Draskovic was the only survivor of the group of five men travelling in two separate cars, which were hit by a truck near Lazarevac, around 60 kilometres south of central Belgrade. According to Draskovic, the truck was driving from the opposite direction when it suddenly swerved onto the wrong side of the road.


Draskovic told the Studio B TV network, controlled by his party, that the incident was "an obvious assassination against me, and it was God's fate that everybody else but me were killed".


The truck hit Draskovic's BMW, killing his fellow passenger, his brother-in-law Veselin Boskovic, director of the Belgrade city planning commission. The truck also hit a second car, an Audi, carrying Zvonko Osmajlic, head of Draskovic's security, and his associates Dragan 'Vucko' Vusurevic and Vusur 'Gaga' Rakocevic. All three were killed.


"At one point, out of the blue, and with no reason, without anyone overtaking anyone, five metres before passing by, the truck swerved into our lane. It was then clear to me that he wanted to kill me," Draskovic said. "Our car skidded from the road, and the car with Vucko, Zvonko and Gaga drove under the truck."


SPO lawyer Borivoje Borovic visited the crash site and said that many facts indicated that it had not been an ordinary car crash. There were no tyre marks on the road, indicating that the driver had not even tried to brake, he said.


"Even though we know the licence number of the truck and even the chassis number, the police won't say who the driver was," he told Balkan Crisis Report on Tuesday. "The police have not released an official announcement for three days now, the driver has 'disappeared', and the police have not yet delivered an official report on the accident to the official investigator, when one is required of them within 24 hours."


Borovic cited reports that the driver of the truck, number BG994704, had been seen in a restaurant just before the smash talking to someone on a mobile phone.


"People from the nearby village of Petka said that they saw a few trucks and a red Volkswagen Golf car parked near the accident site," he added, "in which they saw three or four men, resting and waiting. According to some accounts the mystery truck driver left in their car."


The story is full of curious facts. On the same road where Draskovic nearly died, just ten kilometres further down, Communist leader Josip Broz Tito 'organised' a similar car 'accident' in 1964 that killed top party official Slobodan Penezic. Penezic's death cleared the way for Tito's plans to limit the power of secret police chief Aleksandar Rankovic at a crucial party congress.


All this leads endless room for conspiracy theorists. If an assassination, the motive is clear. The SPO is Draskovic. He has only followers and without him the Movement would collapse.


Shortly before the accident, Boskovic's deputy at the city planning commission was reportedly kidnapped. Vladimir Nikolic, who is also a SPO member, called his family to tell them that he "was away on business". This was taken as a coded allusion to the film by Bosnian director Emir Kusturica, 'My Papa Is Away on Business', in which a father is taken away by secret police.


Among the many rumours surrounding the incident, it was said that Milosevic planned to announce a scandal at the Planning Commission in a bid to discredit Draskovic if he publicly breaks with Milosevic.


Political assassinations are not unusual in Serbia, but are hard to prove as a rule. Police simply report that "the hunt for the perpetrator continues," and bury the file.


Two of Draskovic's close colleagues have been killed in mysterious circumstances. Branislav 'Beli' Matic, an early sponsor of the SPO, was killed in 1991 in front of his house. The killers were never found. Similarly, Djordje 'Giska' Bozovic, Draskovic's much feared former bodyguard, died in unclear circumstances while fighting alongside Croatian Serb forces - according to some of his family, shot by someone on his own side.


Slavko Curuvija, owner and editor of the daily Dnevni Telegraf was shot dead only days after being labelled a traitor by the state media. Relations between Curuvija and Draskovic were once very poor, but had been improving shortly before his death.


Milosevic's allies have also come under attack from the hit men. Police general Radovan 'Badza' Stojicic, then Serbia's deputy interior minister, was killed in a downtown Belgrade restaurant on April 11, 1997. The killers also targeted Zoran 'Kunak' Todorovic, one of the few members of the Serbian political leadership who would address Milosevic informally and whose killing surprised many. Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic, in India at the time, sent his family her condolences by telegram. Neither killer has ever been identified.


Even before Sunday's accident, there had been much speculation that the tacit cooperation between Draskovic and Milosevic had broken up and that Draskovic was going to bring to join the protests. Draskovic has hitherto held back his support from the SZP protests, claiming that they might lead to civil war.


Already one local SPO party organisation, in the eastern Serbian town of Bor, has broken ranks and joined the SZP demonstrations. The decision of Draskovic's Studio B to start covering the protests in detail is also taken as evidence that the SPO is edging closer to the SZP. Also the SPO and SZP were able to come to preliminary agreement on minimal preconditions for participation in a future election, and on further meetings to come.


The protests have already been marred by violence from the police and the regime, which dismisses the tens of thousands of protestors as NATO traitors, and foreign mercenaries and their leaders as sexual deviants.


One SZP leader, Zoran Djindjic, has warned that Milosevic and extremists from his wife's Yugoslav United Left (JUL) party might fake an attack on the police to justify more brutal intervention and justify the declaration of a state of emergency.


Milenko Vasovic is a regular IWPR contributor in Belgrade.