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Serbia: Rivals in Espionage Row

In the latest round of their power struggle, Kostunica and Djindjic accused each other of abusing the intelligence services
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

The Yugoslav parliament is unable to agree on the form of a commission to investigate claims that both President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic have been abusing the secret services in their ongoing political battle.


On July 11, Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, insisted that the parliamentary inquiry should only look into claims that Djindjic had used the offices of the Serbian government's communications bureau to tap the president and his staff. But Djindjic-supporting parties are insisting charges that Kostunica ordered military intelligence units to storm the bureau should also be investigated.


The Yugoslav parliament last week agreed to run its inquiry after the rival camps' accusations reached a crescendo. While Kostunica controls the Yugoslav army and its intelligence agency, Djindjic has great influence over the Serbian interior ministry and the republic's security service, RDB.


Though there have been moves to put the two secret services under parliamentary control, there remains serious concern that the republican and federal authorities will continue to exert pressure on both.


The confrontation between Kostunica and Djindjic has sharpened in the run-up to Serbia's presidential elections. The poll is expected to take place by the end of the year and Kostunica's challenge will pose a serious threat to Djindjic's current supremacy.


The latest clash between the two men dates back to June 24, when Kostunica dismissed the army chief of staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic. Pavkovic held a press conference on the same day to accuse the president of dismissing him for refusing to use army intelligence in the fight against Djindjic.


Pavkovic claimed that on June 7 last year, in the presence of Kostunica, the president's own advisers, Ljilja Nedeljkovic and Gradimir Nalic, had ordered him to authorise a special army unit to raid the communications bureau. The bureau was set up by Djindjic in the winter of 2001 to replace the former information ministry. A few months later, the premier's critics began accusing him of using the organisation to discredit his rivals by leaking confidential secret police files to his media allies.


General Milan Djakovic, then the head of army security department, recently backed Pavkovic's claim, saying he too was present when the presidential advisers ordered the bureau raid. And in the latest development on Friday July 12, a former senior army official, Aleksandar Vasiljevic, claimed that he had also been present when the request was made.


"I can confirm that what the generals said is true," he told Beta News Agency.


Kostunica has denied the allegations and strongly suggested that Djindjic spied on him. On June 29, he sent a letter to the premier and four other top Serbian government officials, saying that equipment of an "unambiguous nature" - a clear reference to surveillance tools - had been delivered to the bureau's headquarters, on June 7 last year.


The Serbian interior ministry and Djindjic himself have in turn denied that any such surveillance took place. The premier's faction has called for Kostunica to be impeached if the federal parliament inquiry establishes that the army was ordered to storm the bureau.


It remains to be seen how Djindjic, the Serbian police and the government bureau will emerge from the growing scandal.


A Serbian police colonel told IWPR that since the international community began to push for greater civilian control over the activities of the security services, the newly established communications bureau has served as alternative espionage centre. The same source claimed that not only were Kostunica and his staff tapped - but that written records of this exist in the Serbian state security headquarters.


IWPR approached Vladimir Popovic, the powerful chief of the communications bureau, about the claims, but our reporter had barely introduced himself before Popovic launched into a furious tirade and refused to answer any questions.


In the latest development in the saga, police questioned Vladimir Radomirovic, editor of the Belgrade-based weekly Reporter, on July 12 about a recent unattributed article citing an anonymous source claiming that surveillance equipment had been installed in the government building housing the communications bureau.


After the so-called informative talks, Radomirovic said he was asked to reveal the identity of the source and the author of the article. He said he refused.


The editor of another newspaper, who wished to remain anonymous, told IWPR, "The Serbian government is becoming hysterical in the run up to the elections. Whoever criticises it, is seen as the enemy and part of the Kostunica block."


Grujica Spasovic, the editor of Danas, claimed the police move against Reporter "was a disgrace".


Another editor, who preferred not to be named, told IWPR, "It is extremely difficult for the media right now. The fight between Kostunica and Djindjic is so serious that when you are perceived to be supporting one or the other they're no longer prepared to talk to you."


Zeljko Cvinjanovic is the editor of Blic News