Milosevic's Forbidden City

Deep in the forests of Mount Cnri Vrh a villa used by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic sits above a mysterious underground complex

Milosevic's Forbidden City

Deep in the forests of Mount Cnri Vrh a villa used by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic sits above a mysterious underground complex

Tuesday, 22 August, 2000

Just outside the village of Dubisnica on Mount Crni Vrh, eastern Serbia, a large-scale underground construction project is well under-way. Beneath a villa once used by Communist activists the underground complex is being built at the behest of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Access to the area is strictly prohibited and police guards patrol the perimeter 24 hours a day.

Residents in Bor, Zagubica, and Milosevic's hometown of Pozarevac speak of little else these days. The complex has acquired the name, The Forbidden City.

Rumours abound the project is part of Milosevic's insurance policy - a secure hideout should he lose the up-coming presidential elections or reach some form of agreement with the international community in exchange for stepping-down from office.

News of the project first leaked out in Pozarevac after guests of Milosevic's son Marko returned from a visit to the villa. An employee from Marko's nightclub Madona, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained the guests were taken to the house at the time of an opposition rally in Pozarevac on May 9.

"He [Marko] thought clashes might break out," the source said. "I saw a lot of work being done on the mountain. Some works are underground. We stayed at the old villa and walked around the forest."

The villa is around 50 kilometres from Bor, hidden deep in the forest. Passers-by can only see the top of the roof in the autumn, when the trees are bare. But powerful lights illuminate the area by night.

S.J., a woodcutter from the Zagubica area, said, "I don't know what's in there, because access is forbidden. The villa is guarded by police."

"You can sometimes hear helicopters landing there," S.J. added. "There may be a heliport in there. Some local shepherds told me Milosevic often visits, sometimes with his family. Senior officials visit him there, and his son Marko sometimes stays there too."

A police officer from Zagubica said Milosevic spent most of his time at the villa during the NATO bombing campaign. A missile struck Milosevic's bedroom at his White Court residence in Belgrade.

Other residents in Zagubica said Nikola Sainovic, spokesman of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, and Vlajko Stojiljkovic, Yugoslav police minister, often stay in the town on route to the villa. Like Milosevic both have been indicted by The Hague Tribunal for alleged war crimes in Kosovo.

A weekly magazine, Ekstra, from Bijeljina in Republika Srpska recently published an exclusive story on the villa. Journalist Danica Zivkovic claimed the villa has its own cinema room, billiard room and swimming pool filled with famous spa water. The Ekstra article mentioned underground construction works, speculating these were probably bunkers. The magazine claimed Milosevic usually travelled to the villa by helicopter and employed police officers from Bor, Pozarevac and Zagunica as bodyguards around the property.

According to Ekstra one of the few foreigners to visit the villa was former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali, who, the magazine claimed, stayed at the house as a guest of Milosevic in 1995.

Although Ekstra is on sale inside Serbia, there has to date been no official response to the article.

Dragan Vitomirovic, a journalist from Zajecar, tried to write a story on the renovation work at the villa three years ago for the now defunct daily newspaper Nasa Borba. Vitomirovic said he encountered a wall of silence. Not one contractor would discuss what kind of works were being done at the house or why.

The house was originally built in the 1950s for use by the Bor police force. But Serbian and Yugoslav Communist officials took a liking to the property and began using it for holidays and meetings.

Speculation Milosevic is constructing a secure retreat mounted following reports in the New York Times that the Yugoslav president was secretly negotiating a deal with Washington, whereby he would step down in exchange for immunity from The Hague Tribunal.

The United States government strongly denied the claims and the Tribunal dismissed the any possibility Milosevic could ever be granted immunity.

Added to this, the experience of former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet, detained for months in Britain pending extradition proceedings on human rights abuse charges, has reinforced the belief Milosevic would refuse to leave Serbia should his tenure as president end.

But claims by Hague detainees Stevan Todorovic and Dragan Nikolic that bounty hunters operating inside Serbia kidnapped and transported them across the border into Bosnia, indicate even Serbia may provide only limited refuge from the clutches of The Hague.

Hence, the theory goes, work is under-way to build an underground fortress at Crni Vrh, where Milosevic can feel safe from internal and external foes - and especially from the rumoured head-hunters on the prowl for stray Hague indictees.

Marko Ruzic is a pseudonym for a journalist in Belgrade.

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