Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Life Sentences for Djindjic Assassins

By Merdijana Sadovic in Sarajevo (TU No 503, 25-May-07)
A special court in Belgrade this week found 12 men guilty of the assassination of Serbia's reformist prime minister Zoran Djindjic, who was gunned down four years ago.

The aim of the assassination was apparently to halt Djindjic’s pro-western reforms - most importantly his cooperation with the Hague tribunal. Djindjic was instrumental in ousting former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and in handing him over to the Hague tribunal, where he was on trial for war crimes until his death in March last year.

Reading the verdict on May 23, the presiding judge Nata Mesarevic described the assassination as a "political murder directed against the state”.

The panel of judges sentenced the alleged mastermind of the attack, Milorad "Legija" Lukovic-Ulemek, and the man who pulled the trigger, Zvezdan Jovanovic, to 40 years in prison.

During the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Lukovic-Ulemek and Jovanovic led a special paramilitary group formed by Milosevic, the Red Berets, that was subsequently disbanded by Djindjic.

The other ten accused were given sentences ranging from eight to 37 years, most of them over 30 years.

The judges concluded that Lukovic-Ulemek had convinced the others that the assassination would end Serbia's drive for integration into Europe, bring back to power Milosevic’s allies and halt the extradition of war crimes suspects

This is the third high-profile case in which Lukovic-Ulemek has been convicted. In July 2005, he was given 40 years for the May 2000 murder of former Serbian president Ivan Stambolic, and in February 2007, he was sentenced to 15 years for his role in a 1999 assassination attempt on current Serbia's foreign minister Vuk Draskovic, then a leading opposition figure.

The Djindjic murder trial, which lasted 41 months, did not go smoothly. Several witnesses have been killed and a presiding judge stepped down after threats against his life. His successor, Mesarevic, was threatened just weeks before the judgment.

In an official statement issued after the verdict was announced, Djindic's Democratic Party, DS, said the convictions were historic and proved that Serbia's judiciary is capable of doing its job ,despite extreme and persistent pressure.

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague programme manager.

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