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In Death, ‘Arkan’ Is Still Larger Than Life as Media Speculates

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With three volleys of rifle fire, and a small choir’s lament asking God’s forgiveness for the sins of the dead, several thousand mourners buried the dreaded paramilitary leader and gangster known as “Arkan.”

Arkan, whose real name was Zeljko Raznatovic, was shot to death in a Belgrade hotel lobby Saturday. Police have yet to say anything official about their investigation, but several local reports identified a suspected accomplice of the gunman as a police officer who had fought in the separatist Serbian province of Kosovo.

Another report in a state-run daily said the man who helped kill Arkan was a member of his paramilitary Serbian Voluntary Guard. The force, also known as the Tigers, fought in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and, war crimes investigators believe, in Kosovo too.

The news reports, many of which seem based more on rumor than on hard evidence, fueled speculation that Arkan--who had been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague--may have been assassinated on orders from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, which has denied involvement.

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About 3,000 people, including Tigers in camouflage fatigues and red berets, and players from Arkan’s Obilic soccer team, attended Thursday’s funeral in Belgrade’s New Cemetery.

Arkan--whose varied careers included state assassin, armed robber, paramilitary fighter, politician and gangster--was eulogized as a war hero by Borislav Pelevic, Arkan’s closest associate and a general in the Serbian Voluntary Guard.

Several Tigers, hidden by the crowd surrounding the grave site, fired three sharp volleys from assault rifles. Pelevic stood at attention and addressed the coffin before it was lowered into the frozen ground.

“Mr. Commander,” Pelevic said. “Let me report to you one last time. The Serbian Voluntary Guard is in good order. The Party of Serbian Unity is in good order. Mr. Commander, allow me to take my leave.”

A choir sang the words “God pardon” over and over. And as mourners wept softly, two Tigers from the honor guard folded the militia’s flag that had draped the coffin, and Pelevic presented it to Arkan’s eldest son, Mihailo.

One lengthy report published Thursday in the respected independent Vreme magazine implied that Milosevic’s son Marko could be another possible suspect in Arkan’s killing.

Under that theory, Vreme suggested, Milosevic’s son may have been involved in a deadly turf war with Arkan because the gangster was trying to monopolize the lucrative black market in gasoline and diesel.

Slobodan Milosevic once told an interviewer that Arkan was his “biggest enemy,” according to Vreme. That may have been linked “with the conflict of interest between the deceased one and Marko Milosevic regarding some monopoly on the import of liquid fuels,” the magazine speculated.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization destroyed oil refineries in Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, during 78 days of airstrikes to drive Serbian and Yugoslav forces from Kosovo last year, and everyone--from gangsters to grandmothers--now makes money in the open, yet formally illegal, fuel trade.

Anyone with the right friends in government, or enough cash to bribe officials, can get a piece of the action. But Arkan’s enforcers were said to be stopping trucks as they entered Serbia from neighboring countries and paying the smugglers wholesale prices before seizing the supplies to sell them at the steep black market rate, Vreme reported.

“The problem is, it’s being said that Arkan stepped on the toes of some serious people because the sale of smuggled gasoline is an extremely lucrative business,” the magazine said.

“Names are being mentioned that are not fit to print, as well as political parties that have been consolidating business lately,” the report added.

The swirl of conspiracy theories has created a confusing blur surrounding the truth of Arkan’s killing, and many here believe that is exactly the way Milosevic wants it. A report by a Greek TV network, repeated in several of Belgrade’s independent dailies, even claimed that Arkan isn’t really dead.

Milosevic’s government has only confirmed that a suspected accomplice in the killing was wounded and is now in police custody in the hospital but not well enough yet to make a statement to investigators.

The suspect, identified in several local reports as Dusan Gavric, 24, graduated from a police high school in 1995, served in Kosovo and was wounded in the leg in a shooting six months ago, according to the state-run tabloid Vecernje Novosti.


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