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Milosevic Men Get Top Police Posts

Controversial police chief appointments call into question the Serbian government's commitment to reform
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

Serbia's long-awaited clear out of police top brass has failed to sever links with the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

 

A series of new secret police, RDB, and civil police appointments in the past two weeks has seen the return of several officials who served under the former president throughout the Balkan wars of the early 1990s and the recent Kosovo crisis.

 

Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic hailed the changes as the first steps in the fight against organised crime. Many would disagree.

 

The new appointments began in late January, Serbia's hated secret police chief Rade Markovic was finally replaced by Goran Petrovic, who was sacked from the RDB by Markovic in 1999.

 

Zoran Mijatovic was then named as Petrovic's deputy. David Gajic, former RDB chief in Kosovo, and Milutin Popivoda, former chief of the Vojvodina RDB, also returned to senior posts.

 

All of them have close links with Jovica Stanisic, the former RDB chief and Milosevic's right-hand man prior to the conflict in Kosovo.

 

Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic praised Petrovic for his "considerable experience and years of service within the RDB [Serbian secret police]" and insisted that he had never been involved in any criminal activities.

 

Stanisic was ousted in a "palace coup" in 1998 by Rade Markovic. A close associate of Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, and a member of her Yugoslav Left party, Markovic proceeded to purge the service of Stanisic loyalists, including Petrovic, who was dismissed in January 1999.

 

Petrovic, at the time, was in charge of counter-espionage against the United States.

 

For the past two years Petrovic, a law graduate, has worked as a legal consultant to a private company based in Belgrade. He was recommended for the job as RDB chief by Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, a distant relation.

 

An IWPR source claimed Kostunica was won over by Petrovic's unblemished RDB reputation, his education and determination to reform the secret police - something he has already begun to do. Within days of being appointed, he began to get rid of Markovic loyalists.

 

Zoran Djindjic's motives for backing Petrovic's appointment may have more to do with the prime minister's close links to Stanisic.

 

The former RDB chief was approached by opposition politicians two years ago and established close links with Djindjic. Stanisic together with several serving and former senior police officials subsequently helped Serbia's future prime minister to mastermind the overthrow of Milosevic last October.

 

Djindjic, it appears, is now paying back his debt to those officials.

 

These links to Stanisic and the former Milosevic regime do not bode well.

 

The mysterious political assassinations, which plagued Serbia under the previous government date back to the Stanisic era. Likewise, the paramilitary forces alleged to have committed war crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo had been formed while he was in office.

 

At the same time as the appointment of new RDB officials, Djindjic named General Sreten Lukic as the replacement for sacked deputy interior ministers Obrad Stevanovic and Vlastimir Djordjevic. Lukic will command the civil police forces.

 

His appointment has provoked widespread criticism in the Serbian media and abroad. Lukic was commander of Serb police forces in Kosovo before and during the NATO air strikes. Units under his command have been widely accused of atrocities in the province.

 

The Belgrade weekly Vreme has pointed out that Lukic's official biography omits his spell as Kosovo police chief. But in May 1999, the magazine claims, Milosevic promoted Lukic and awarded him a medal.

 

And The Washington Post, quoting intelligence sources, linked Lukic to the mass killings in the Kosovo village of Racak. In an intercepted telephone conversation, the then Yugoslav deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic ordered Lukic to send police back into the village to block access to international investigators, the paper claims.

 

Dusan Mihajlovic dismissed the criticism, saying, "The fact that he commanded forces in Kosovo does not automatically imply he's been involved in any crime".

 

The interior minister said a state commission would be investigating allegations levelled at former police officials - any found wanting would be removed.

 

Sealed Hague indictments may well contain the names of some of these new police appointees rendering Serbia's full cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal next to impossible.

 

Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division, said Lukic's appointment "raises serious doubts about the new Serbian government's commitment to police reform and to accountability for past abuses.

 

"People who should be investigated for their role in war crimes and other serious abuses are instead being rewarded."

 

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor.

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