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People vs. Milosevic, Part 5: Bodybags

Draskovic
A truck hit Draskovic's convoy, killing 4 staff; new interior minister Mihajlovic says it was a blatant assassination attempt  


By CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As the 1990s drew to a close, former friends of Milosevic, associates, and others who may have known too much, began to die violent and public deaths.

The truth behind the bodybags began to emerge once the Democratic Opposition of Serbia took power in January 2001.

Investigators then began to uncover many of Milosevic's long-suspected secrets, allegedly including state-sponsored murder and enemies lists kept by his secret police.

"We came across incredible information," says Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic.

SPECIAL REPORT
The People vs. Milosevic
• Introduction 
• Part 1: Milosevic's arrest 
• Part 2: Balkan wars 
• Part 3: Downfall 
• Part 4: Epic corruption 
• Part 5: Bodybags 
• Part 6: Shadows 
 

"For example (Serbian Prime Minister Zoran) Djindjic has more than 800 reports in his dossier. (Yugoslav President Vojislav) Kostunica was third in line with 550-something, and myself with 549 reports that were dubbed onto a hard disk," Batic says.

Some political figures faced a lot more than surveillance. Vuk Draskovic escaped by a whisker in October 1999 when a truck hit his convoy, killing four of his staff.

According to the new interior minister, Dusan Mihajlovic, it was a blatant assassination attempt by the secret police. "We have established that members of the secret service were involved, using an official truck that belonged to the service," says Mihajlovic.

Warnings and death threats would reach his most prominent public critics, including Slavko Curuvija. Curuvija was a Belgrade newspaper publisher who relentlessly denounced Milosevic, his wife and their political parties.

"He showed at one moment that one man completely alone can fight against a system which he found inhuman," says Dr. Branka Prpa, Curuvija's wife.

'Nowhere to hide'

In October 1998, the Serbian government shut down Curuvija's Daily Telegraph. But still he wouldn't keep quiet.

In March the following year, a court in Belgrade sentenced Curuvija and two other journalists to five months in jail.

"I kept saying, 'You entered a serious political fight, that means that you'd better have some sort of place to escape to,'" says Prpa. "His answer was, 'Brance, if the state wants to kill you, you've got nowhere to hide.'"

A month later, while Curvija was appealing his sentence, Zoran Djindjic ran into him in a Belgrade café.

"He wanted to drink coffee," says Djindjic. "I made a joke: 'What are you doing here? Are you alive?' And he answered: 'I wanted to ask you, because you are first on the list. I am just second.'"

Djindjic
Djindjic: "No doubt the security police was involved" in Curvija's death  

Five days later, Curuvija was dead -- pumped full of bullets in front of his wife on their Belgrade doorstep. There was no other witness. To this day there has been no arrest.

"The murder of Slavko Curuvija is a political murder," says Prpa. "The top of the Milosevic regime were the only ones that could make such a decision, and I consider them responsible."

"There's no doubt the security police was involved, deeply involved. The question is, who gave the order," says Djindjic.

"Milosevic?" CNN asked Djindjic.

"I think yes," Djindjic said.

Toma Fila, Milosevic's attorney, says: "I always have an impression that we are talking about one man, the whole state of Serbia is one Slobodan Milosevic -- that he decides, kills, buries, digs out -- one man does it all. Why would Milosevic order an assassination?"

Bodies in the Danube

By far the largest investigation involves not selective assassination, but mass murder, And it is being run by the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. Central to the case is Milosevic's strategy in Kosovo.

In March 1999, in places like Izbice, Serbian forces slaughtered ethnic Albanian civilians. They were then allegedly ordered to destroy any evidence that was potentially useful to the tribunal's investigators.

Orders to dig up about a thousand corpses from Kosovo and rebury them on government-owned property near Belgrade came from Milosevic himself, according to Dusan Mihajlovic, Serbia's new interior minister, who holds recently discovered notes of a secret meeting.

"The meeting was at his place, and the question was discussed at that meeting, and he made the conclusion that the operation should take place," says Mihajlovic.

It might have remained a secret, but a freezer truck containing more than 80 bodies turned up in the River Danube, just downstream from the capital Belgrade.

Milosevic's interior ministry blocked any investigation into the freezer truck, but now hundreds of bodies have been dug up, and it's now emerging that moving and reburying those corpses had been a major operation.

"Who killed those people and where are those people from?" says Fila, Milosevic's attorney.

"That is 70 percent of the guilt, you know, and hiding the corpses and covering up the evidence is something completely different. I'm not saying that it is allowed, nor that it is all right, but it is, I guess, clear to everyone that it is a bigger crime to kill someone than when a third person covers up what somebody else killed."

Says Serbian Justice Minister Batic: "Now I think that things have started to unwind. The freezer truck was discovered in the Danube with bodies of old people, women and children. We know that Slobodan Milosevic was the one who organized the cover-up of those serious crimes.

"I think that the time ahead of us will uncover the involvement of Slobodan Milosevic in various other mysterious murders."



 
 
 
 


RELATED STORY:
• Case against Milosevic
CNN.com In-depth Special

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• International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

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