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The Assassination of Slavko Curuvija

Unknown perpetrators murdered journalist Slavko Curuvija, the director of the daily newspaper Dnevni Telegraf and the weekly magazine Evropljanin, on April 11, 1999, during the third week of the NATO intervention. The killing had a chilling effect on the media and other critical voices in Serbia.

Five days before the murder, a commentary was read in the main TV news program accusing Curuvija of supporting the NATO bombardments. Curuvija's friends and colleagues, however, claimed that Curuvija had actually condemned the NATO intervention.68

In fact, Curuvija's troubles with the regime had begun much earlier. A former friend of Mirjana Markovic, the wife of Slobodan Milosevic, Curuvija had distanced himself from the government at least a year before his killing. Since then, Dnevni Telegraf and Evropljanin had published a number of articles highly critical of the authorities and Serbian nationalism.

On three occasions during 1998 Curuvija's journals were found to have violated Serbia's Law On Public Information and ordered to pay a total of 4,050,000 dinars (U.S. $200,000 at the time of the rulings) in fines.69 On March 8, 1999, he and two Dnevni Telegraf journalists were convicted and each sentenced to five months in prison for publishing an article which, in the opinion of the court, suggested the involvement of Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Milovan Bojic in an assassination case.70 Curuvija continued issuing both newspapers until the beginning of the war (March 24), when he ceased publishing Dnevni Telegraf and Evropljanin.

In an interview published one month after the end of the NATO air campaign, Vuk Draskovic, who was a deputy federal prime minister during the first half of the war, claimed that, in his capacity as a minister, he had prevented other assassinations. Draskovic had used certain "words and threats" at a session of the federal government held one day after the murder of Curuvija, he said, but refused to offer details.71 The veracity of his statement can not be confirmed. In May 1999, Radmila Visic, Serbian deputy minister of information, rejected speculations of government involvementin the killing; in a meeting with Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, she said that Curuvija "was not killed for political or professional reasons," and that the police would "soon give a full account" of the assassination.72 As of January 2000, nine months after the murder, no such results have been communicated to the public.

Car Accident or Murder?

In October, in the midst of the series of daily street protests organized by the Alliance for Change throughout Serbia, opinion polls indicated, for the first time since Milosevic's rise to power, a clear advantage in favor of the opposition: the Alliance for Change, SPO, and several smaller parties and coalitions.73 By that time it had also become clear that the SPO, which had participated in the federal government until April 1999, was siding with the opposition. In this context a number of violent incidents occurred in which opposition party members were injured or killed or their homes attacked, these including a suspicious car accident which killed four members of the SPO and injured SPO leader Vuk Draskovic. The police have not identified the perpetrators in any of the cases.

On October 3, Vuk Draskovic, president of the SPO, the strongest opposition party in Serbia, was traveling in a three-car convoy near Lazarevac, some fifty kilometers south of Belgrade, when a Mercedes truck coming from the other direction suddenly crossed into the oncoming traffic and hit his car, while the vehicle behind him drove into the truck and exploded. An SPO official who was in Draskovic's car and three security guards in the car behind died, and Draskovic suffered minor injuries.74 According to media reports, there were no signs of the truck's braking at the spot. The truck was damaged and ended up off the road, but the driver ran away.75

Four days after the accident, Dragisa Dinic, the assistant head of the public security section in the Serbian Ministry of Interior, blamed the victims of the crash. He claimed the SPO officials were speeding, and that the consequences would not have been so grave had the SPO cars respected the speed limit. Dinic said "it was estimated" that, instead of driving the prescribed eighty kilometers an hour, the two cars reached a speed of 150 kilometers an hour.76 Draskovic denied that the convoy was speeding.77

Controversial claims, accusations, and the death of an alleged key witness marred the investigation of the case, feeding speculations that the authorities tried to hide the truth about the accident. Draskovic and the SPO claimed to have established that there are only sixteen trucks of the type involved in the accident in all of Yugoslavia.78 The police have thus far said they have been unable to identify the owner of the truck or to find out who drove it on the day of the incident. As Draskovic and his lawyer told the media, the plate number found on the truck (BG 994-704) turned out not to exist in the official registry. In addition, they said, the truck was loaded with thirty tons of sand, which they speculated might have been intended to increase its stability at the moment of impact.79 At the end of October, an SPO team of lawyers announced that a witness, Miroslav Macika, said he had seen a car picking up the driver of the truck and driving him away from near the scene of the incident. Macika promptly denied the SPO statement and claimed that on October 3 he was 300 kilometers away from Belgrade.80 SPO replied in response that Macika's statement was videotaped and brought a charge against Macika for false testimony.81

On November 20, SPO issued a statement claiming that the truck was the property of the Serbian State Security Service. SPO said that information about the truck and other vehicles used for special tasks is kept in a separate registry managed by the police and accused the State Security Service of removing the files about the vehicles from the registry, one day after the incident.82 On November 25, SPO announced that a federal customs officer, who in 1996 had signed the form assigning the truck to the State Security, was killed in what they claimed was a staged car accident on November 21, also near Lazarevac.83 SPO claims were repudiated in a written statement by the competent investigating judge, who concluded that the customs officer died in "one among many and typical car accidents in the Lazarevac area."84

On December 3, SPO issued a long statement recapitulating the findings of the parallel "investigation" conducted by its team of experts. In addition to the information it had distributed in its earlier statements, SPO maintained that, two days before the October 3 incident, the Mercedes truck was repaired in a garage on the road where the incident eventually occurred, and the expenses for the repair were paid by the State Security Service. According to the SPO, members of the secret police allegedly visited the garage one day after the incident and warned the employees to keep silent about the repair.85 On December 6, SPO brought charges for murder and attempted murder against the head of the Serbian State Security Service, Radomir Markovic, and the head of the Belgrade branch of the State Security Service, Milan Radonjic.86

As a response to the series of statements by the SPO, the first municipal public prosecutor in Belgrade demanded a probe into the accusations made by the party-on suspicion that it had committed the crimes of defamation and dissemination of false news.87 This request was followed within days by a statement of the municipal public prosecutor in Lazarevac, which established that the Mercedes truck, repaired near Lazarevac two days before the fatal accident,was indeed the property of the State Security Service, but was not the truck that participated in the accident.88 On December 29, the district prosecutor in Belgrade, to whom the SPO had brought the charge against the two high State Security officials, rejected the charges. The basis for the rejection was the failure to identify the truck owned by the State Security Service-the only Mercedes of the kind acknowledged to be owned by the service-as the truck engaged in the accident. According to the statement by the prosecutor, an employee at the garage said he repaired the truck belonging to the State Security Service, and after the October 3 accident he recognized the truck, in good shape, at the State Security's special unit parking lot.89 The truck, however, had a different licence plate from the one involved in the accident.

Just after the judiciary absolved the authorities from responsibility for the October 3 incident, the government launched a propaganda offensive against Draskovic, its ally in the federal executive before April 1999. The federal minister of information, Goran Matic, accused Draskovic of having contacts with the chiefs of foreign intelligence agencies.90 A daily controlled by the government wrote that Draskovic "received a task to turn Serbs against Serbs, after the unsuccessful NATO aggression."91 Another governmental daily wrote:

Such pure and brutal treason is without precedent in Serbian history. Turkish, Austro-Hungarian, and German toadies and cowards in those times succeeded in hiding their faces under various masks -impotence of the small before the big, postponement of the resistance for better times, expression of patriotism in another way, etc. Here, for the first time, the treason has only one face, without a mask, its own-traitorous -face. (...) It has been clear for a long time that Vuk Draskovic is not a hero. In spite of the stimuli he uses, he has been organizing street violence for ten years, with financial, political, and-particularly -psychological aid from some Western governments. On his own, without these governments and the stimuli, he is the crying and fearful husband of a raging wife.92

At the same time that the government was carrying out its defamatory campaign against Draskovic and other political activists were facing ongoing harassment, SPO and other opposition parties have come close to forming a firm alliance for future elections. A series of meetings resulted in the signing of documents about common strategy in the struggle for free and fair parliamentary elections in Serbia. Also, the opinion polls continued to show a comfortable advantage for the opposition parties.93 The increasingly aggressive tone of the accusations against Draskovic and other opposition figures clearly reflects the government's concern about the erosion of its legitimacy and the strengthening of the opposition.

Bomb Explosion at the House of the DS President in Valjevo

On October 17, at 3.50 a.m., a bomb exploded on the terrace of the house of Nebojsa Andric, president of the DS municipal board in Valjevo and correspondent of the Radio Free Europe in South Slavic languages. Andric was the speaker at the September Alliance for Change rallies held in Belgrade. He also spoke at an October 4 rally in Valjevo, where he accused local SPS leaders getting richer while the rest of the population was struggling with poverty.

Andric's wife, who was nine months pregnant, was also in the house at the time of the explosion. Nobody was hurt, but the house was badly damaged.94 Andric told Human Rights Watch:

The terrace is on the back side of the house, facing the yard. The person-or persons-who threw the bomb must have jumped in from my neighbor's yard. The sleeping room faces the street. If they had wanted to kill me, they would have thrown the bomb from the street into the room. This time around, my political adversaries apparently wanted only to intimidate me.95

As of early December, Andric was not aware of any investigation by the police to find the perpetrators. Instead, as he told Human Rights Watch, the police detained him on December 1, at the border crossing between FRY and Hungary, and interrogated him for three hours about his trip to Hungary and the meetings he had there.96

Djindjic Alleges Assassination Threat

At a press conference held on October 20, Zoran Djindjic revealed details which, he claimed, indicated a government plan to assassinate him. That evening he gave further details in a live interview to the Radio Free Europe program in South Slavic languages. Sources within the police, he said, informed him that the police and state security service were compiling a dossier of Djindjic's daily activities. His apartment building and its surroundings, as well as two locations near Belgrade where he occasionally resides, had been photographed, he claimed, and a record had been made of the routes Djindjic uses on his way to and from home. According to Djindjic, the police were investigating his security guards and collecting information about the type of weapons they use.97

In the same interview, Djindjic said he decided to reveal this information as a means of protection after statements by Goran Matic, federal secretary of information, and Milosevic's wife Mirjana Markovic. On October 18, Matic said that "a subversive-destructive chain of incidents and provocations, ostensibly against the opposition, is in preparation. Foreign intelligence services and their domestic aides are behind this, and their actions would be ascribed to the authorities."98 The statement was widely interpreted as an attempt to provide an alibi for the authorities should they resort to physical elimination as a means of silencing the opposition. Around the same date, in an interview with the Vatican newspaper Famiglia Cristiana, Markovic accused Djindjic of being the "chief NATO collaborator" and a proponent of the forceful overthrow of the government. She claimed that Djindjic had "escaped" from the country during the war and then advised NATO on the selection of targets in Serbia.99

Two weeks after Djindjic claimed that the government was preparing his assassination, a former chief of the DS security staff was found dead in his Belgrade apartment. On November 6 the independent newspaper Glas javnosti cited unidentified sources in the Belgrade police as stating that Branislav Vasiljevic, thirty-six, committed suicide on the night of November 4.100 According to a Belgrade investigating judge in charge of the case, initial findings also suggested that Vasiljevic killed himself.101 But Zoran Djindjic and the DS openly questioned this interpretation. They pointed to the fact that Vasiljevic had recently married and become a father, and that on the day of his death he met a number of people all of whom claimed he was in a good mood.102 Although Vasiljevic withdrew from political activities in 1997 and was managing a bakery, he had occasionally accompanied Djindjic to rallies believed to be risky.103 He was seen, for example, next to Djindjic at the opposition rallies in September and October in Belgrade, and on one occasion was said to have prevented a dozen thugs from attacking a group of Alliance for Change supporters in New Belgrade.104

Journalists' Cars are Burned

On October 27, at around 9.20 p.m., the work car of Slavoljub Kacarevic, director of the independent Glas Javnosti newspaper and of the ABC Grafika printing house, burst into flames at a parking lot in the center of Belgrade.105 Kacarevic, who was not in the car at the time, refrained from calling the event an assassination attempt, but admitted he was "scared."106 The event occurred one week after the beginning of a judicial proceeding against ABC Grafika, initiated by the Serbian Ministry of Information (see above, Other measures to harass opposition supporters). The Belgrade police announced on November 2 that Kacarevic's car caught fire because of improper engine installations.107

Two weeks later, on November 11, a car belonging to a director of an independent radio station burst into flames. This second incident raised doubts in many journalists' minds that the car burnings were accidents. In the second case, flames engulfed the car of Andreja Rakocevic, director of Radio Globus in Kraljevo, on November 11, a few hundred meters after he began driving home.108 Rakocevic was able to escape unharmed. His radio station has been struggling for years against government attempts to hinder its work by denying it a broadcast license and by confiscating its transmitter.109 It is presently the only privately owned independent radio station in central Serbia that covers political issues. In September 1999 the station was robbed twice; both times the robbers took away the broadcasting equipment, and not the more expensive equipment-such as computers-which was not directly related to broadcasting.110

68 See, for example, press release by the Association of Independent Electronic Media - ANEM, "Prominent independent journalist Slavko Curuvija murdered," Belgrade, April 12, 1999, located at

69 Evropljanin was punished with a 2.4 million dinar fine on October 24; Dnevni telegraf was punished with a 1.2 million fine on November 9, and fined 450.000 on December 9. Dragoljub Petrovic, "Okovi za slobodnu rec" (Shackles for Free Word), Glas Javnosti, October 17, 1999, p. 5 .

70 See Human Rights Watch press release, "Attacks on the Serbian Media Called `Alarming,'" March 11, 1999.

71 Interview with Vuk Draskovic, in Uros Komlenovic, "Srbija je umorna od pretnji i mrznje" (Serbia Is Tired of Threats and Hatred), Vreme, July 24, 1999, p, 12-13 (box "Sprecili smo streljanja po kratkom postupku" (We Prevented Summary Executions)).

72 "Curuvija nije ubijen iz politickih razloga" (Curuvija Was Not Killed for Political Reasons) (Beta), Danas, May 8-9, 1999.

73 The results of an opinion poll prepared by the Belgrade agency Medium showed that in early October, 23 percent of the population of Belgrade gave its preference to the Alliance for Change, 11 percent to SPO, and 8 percent to other opposition parties; on the opposite side, the SPS-JUL coalition received 16.5 percent of preferences, and SRS 8.4 percent. See "Mitinzi povecali rejting Saveza za promene" (Rallies Increased the Standing of the Alliance for Change), Blic (Belgrade), October 4, 1999, p. 2. At the same time, the Scan agency (Novi Sad) found that in Serbia's northern province of Vojvodina the Alliance For Change had 13 percent of the potential votes, SPO 6.5 percent, other opposition parties 10 percent, SPS-JUL coalition 14.4 percent, and SRS 4.4 percent. Lj.N., "Pad popularnosti SPS" (Decline Of the Popularity Of SPS), Blic, October 7, 1999, p. 3. A survey undertaken in October by the Washington D.C.-based National Democratic Institute For International Affairs found even bigger advantage in favor of the opposition: in a forced choice ballot test, 47 percent of the interviewees said they would vote for the Alliance for Change or the parties joined thereto, 11 for SPO, 18 for SPS-JUL, and 9 for SRS; in an open-ended question, the Alliance for Change won 30 percent of preferences, three parties belonging to the Alliance -- DS, Civil Alliance, and Social Democracy -- won 4.1, and 1 percent respectively, SPO won 9 percent, other opposition parties 6 percent, SPS 16 percent, JUL 2 percent, and SRS 7 percent. National Democratic Institute For International Affairs, Serbia Issues Poll, prepared by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates Inc., October 24, 1999 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

74 The victims were: Veselin Boskovic, brother of Draskovic's wife and director of the Belgrade Board for Municipal Building Sites; Zvonko Osmajlic, manager of the sports center Tasmajdan in Belgrade and long-time chief of Draskovic's security staff; Vusur Rakocevic, manager of the "Pionir" sports hall in Belgrade and Draskovic's security guard; and Dragan Vusurevic, security guard.

75 "Borovic: Neverovatno je da `nema' vozaca kamiona" (Borovic: It is Incredible that the Driver `Disappeared'), Blic, October 4, 1999, p. 8.

76 "Automobili SPO isli prebrzo" (SPO Cars Drove Too Fast), Danas, October 9-10, 1999, p. 3.

77 "Sprema se lazna verzija udesa" (A False Version of the Incident is Being Prepared), Glas Javnosti, October 7, 1999, p. 10.

78 H.M., "`Cinjenice ukazuju na zlocin'" (`Facts Indicate a Crime'), Danas, October 11, 1999, p. 3

79 Ibid.; Z. Panovic, "Ubistvo iz namere, ne iz nehata" (Premeditated Murder, Not Negligence), Danas, October 13, 1999, p. 4.

80 A. Panic, "Svedok SPO tvrdi da nije ni bio na mestu nesrece" (SPO Witness Claims He Was Not Present at the Location of the Accident), Politika, October 30, 1999, p. 20.

81 "Novo saslusanje brace Macika" (New Hearing for Macika Brothers), Danas, November 17, 1999, p. 3.

82 "Kamion sa peskom vlasnistvo SDB" (Truck with Sand Property of the State Security Service), Glas Javnosti, November 21, 1999, p. 7.

83 M.B., "Ubice ucutkale Petra Rajica" (Killers Silenced Petar Rajic), Danas, November 26, 1999, p. 1.

84 "Nastradao u prevrnutom dzipu" (Died in a Turned-Over Jeep), Glas Javnosti, December 1, 1999, p. 8.

85 "Brutalnim ubistvima protiv promena u Srbiji" (Brutal Assassinations to Prevent Changes in Serbia) (text of the SPO statement), Danas, December 4-5, 1999, p. 4.

86 M.T., "Imamo dokaze da je MUP pogresio" (We Have Proofs that the Police Were Erroneous", Glas Javnosti, December 7, 1999, p. 7.

87 A. Panic, "SPO osumnjicen za sirenje laznih vesti i klevete" (SPO Suspected of Dissemination of False News and of Defamation), Politika, December 11, 1999, p. 20.

88 "Nema nikakvih dokaza da je kamion koji je ucestvovao u nezgodi vlasnistvo Drzavne bezbednosti" (No Evidence that the Truck that Participated in the Accident Belongs to the State Security) (statement of the Lazarevac public Prosecutor), Politika, December 21, 1999, p. 20.

89 "Odbacena tuzba Srpskog Pokreta Obnove" (SPO Charge Rejected) (statement by the district public prosecutor in Belgrade), Politika, December 30, 1999, p. 19.

90 "Draskovic se u vise navrata sastajao sa pripadnicima francuske obavestajne sluzbe" (Draskovic Met on a Number of Occasion with Members of the French Intelligence Service), Politika, January 9, 2000, p. 14.

91 "Novi zadatak" (New Task) (transcript of the editorial originally published in Politika Ekspres), Politika, January 9, 2000, p. 14.

92 "Odabran da amnestira NATO od zlocina" (Selected to Pardon NATO for the Crimes) (transcript of an editorial originally published in Borba), Politika, January 10, 2000, p. 14.

93 In January, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Political Research at the Institute of Social Sciences, the ruling SPS, SRS, and JUL enjoyed support of 17 percent of the population, while the support for the major opposition blocks-Alliance for Change, SPO, and Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS)- amounted to 22 percent. I. Stojkovic, "Uspesni samo zajedno" (Successful Only if Together), Glas Javnosti, January 28, 2000. The newspaper article presenting the results did not mention the percentage of those who would vote for other, minor, opposition parties, but they have traditionally at least 5 percent, which in the present constellation of political parties would increase the overall support for the opposition to close to 30 percent. Half of the interviewees were undecided or declared they would not vote for any party.

94 "Bomba na zgradu predsednika DS u Valjevu" (Bomb at the House of the President of DS in Valjevo), Danas, October 18, 1999, p. 13.

95 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Nebojsa Andric, November 15, 1999.

96 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Nebojsa Andric, December 5, 1999.

97 Interview with Zoran Djindjic, Radio Free Europe, program in South Slavic languages, October 20/21, 1999.

98 M. Petric, "Na potezu montirane provokacije i incident" (Next Step: Staged Provocations and Incidents), Politika, October 19, 1999, p. 14.

99 "Moja zemlja je sada najvece gradiliste na svetu" (My Country is the Biggest Building Site in the World Now) (transcript of the interview by Mirjana Markovic to "Famiglia Cristiana"), Politika, October 20, 1999, p. 5. The accusation of his "escape" from the country at the time of the NATO intervention was used often by the state media. Djindjic responded by saying that, during the war, he spent only three hours abroad, during which time he visited German Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder. B. Vojnic, "Direktan poziv na linc" (Direct Invitation to Lynching), Glas Javnosti, October 19, 1999, p. 3. Leaders of other opposition parties stayed in Serbia throughout the entire period; one of them-Goran Svilanovic, president of the Civic Alliance-was even drafted.

100 S. Kraljevic, "Samoubistvo ili zlocin" (Suicide or Crime), Glas Javnosti, November 6, 1999, p. 5.

101 Statement of Dobrivoje Gerasimovic, investigating judge in the District court in Belgrade, in D.J.V. and J.R., "DS vodi paralelnu istragu" (DS Conducts Parallel Investigation), Glas Javnosti, November 9, 1999, p. 7.

102 Ibid.; see also S. Kraljevic, "Samoubistvo ili zlocin."

103 V.Z.C., "Tuga i sumnja" (Sorrow And Doubt), Danas, November 8, 1999, p. 5.

104 Ibid.; see also S. Kraljevic, "Samoubistvo ili zlocin" (photo taken at a recent rally in Belgrade).

105 J.K., "Izgoreo automobil direktora Glasa Javnosti" (Car of the Director of Glas Javnosti Burst into Flames), Danas, October 29, 1999, p. 5.

106 J.K., "Izgoreo automobil direktora Glasa Javnosti."

107 A.S., "Kacarevicev automobil izgoreo zbog lose instalacije" (Kacarevic's Car Burned Down due to Bad Installations).

108 M.Filipovic, "Izgoreo automobil direktora Radio Globusa" (Car of The Radio Globus's Director on Fire), Danas, November 12, 1999, p. 13.

109 Perica Gunjic, "Ipak se okrece" (Yet It Is Moving On), Glas Javnosti, October 24, 1999, p. 10 (interview with Andreja Rakocevic).

110 See M. Filipovic, "Radio `Globus' Opustosen" (Radio `Globus' Ravaged), Danas, September 13, 1999, p. 5; see also M.F., "Ponovo opljackan Radio Globus" (Radio Globus Robbed Again), Danas, September 27, 1999, p. 24.

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