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Serb Police Kill Alleged Assassins

Special to The Times

Serbian police on Thursday killed two of the three chief suspects in the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the government said.

Dusan Spasojevic and Mile Lukovic were tracked down in the southern Belgrade district of Barajevo, where they opened fire on police, the interior ministry said in a brief statement released late Thursday. The two men were shot dead in the ensuing gun battle.

Spasojevic and Lukovic, both 34, were leaders of the Zemun clan, a powerful organized crime ring that officials accuse of masterminding Djindjic’s slaying. A third major suspect in the case, Milorad Lukovic, better known as “Legija,” is still at large.

Djindjic was gunned down by sharpshooters on March 12 outside government headquarters in a daring ambush that shocked this war-torn nation. At the time of his death, his government was on the verge of launching a crackdown on organized crime, which remains the scourge of the city of Belgrade and Serbian national politics.

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Suspected of carrying out previous political killings, many of these organized gangs draw on former members of Serbian paramilitary units responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. The paramilitaries were close to ousted President Slobodan Milosevic and continue to hold sway over many Serbian officials.

Spasojevic was one of the more infamous of the former paramilitaries, a ranking member of a ruthless group known as Arkan’s Tigers in the early 1990s.

After the squad disbanded, Spasojevic became a free agent who was allegedly tapped by the Milosevic regime to liquidate some of its political opponents, procure weapons for other paramilitary groups and smuggle drugs to help finance Serbia’s security apparatus.

Later, police say, Spasojevic joined forces with Legija to run the Zemun clan.

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Less is known about Mile Lukovic, the other man killed in Thursday’s shootout. His ties to paramilitary groups were unclear, but authorities say he had a long history of involvement in Belgrade’s shady underworld.

Just two days ago, a Belgrade daily newspaper published a profile of Lukovic, a man known in some criminal circles as the “Godfather,” the newspaper said. Drawing on accounts from former classmates and neighbors, the paper reported that Lukovic and Spasojevic were childhood friends born in the same small southern Serbian town, Medvedja.

Later, Lukovic worked as a prison guard in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo province, before moving to Belgrade and becoming involved with gangs, the paper said.

Also this week, authorities arrested Zvezdan Jovanovic, the deputy commander of a Serbian paramilitary group, who is accused of firing the bullet that killed Djindjic.

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In another move Thursday believed to be connected with Djindjic’s death, police arrested Milica Gajic-Milosevic, the daughter-in-law of the deposed president, the Belgrade radio station B-92 reported, without providing further details. Gajic-Milosevic’s husband, Marko, the former Serbian strongman’s only son, was also a reputed mobster and has since fled the country. He is thought to be living somewhere in Central Asia.

So far, the government here has detained or arrested about 3,000 people in connection with the investigation into Djindjic’s slaying. While most have been released, about 1,000 suspects are still in custody under the government’s declared state of emergency, which gives it broad powers of law enforcement.

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Times staff writer Chu reported from Landstuhl, Germany, and special correspondent Cirjakovic from Belgrade.

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