Man held for Serb PM’s killing

2010-06-10 16:44

Belgrade - Police arrested a fugitive convicted over the 2003 assassination of Serbia's prime minister on Thursday after a shootout in Croatia with a member of an organised crime ring, officials said.

The arrest of Milos Simovic, 30, was a sign of improved police co-operation in the region.

Simovic was held while attempting to cross the Croatia-Serbia border, Krunoslav Borovec, a Croatian police spokesperson told a news conference in Zagreb.

"He (Simovic) had no personal documents and was physically exhausted. But his identity has now been confirmed beyond doubt," Borovec said.

In 2007, Serbia sentenced Simovic and Sretko Kalinic in absentia to 30 years in prison for conspiring to kill prime minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003.

Both men had been at large until now. A Serbian police official said Simovic would now start serving his prison term.

Kalinic, born in Croatia, was admitted to a hospital in the Croatian capital Zagreb on Tuesday with gunshot wounds to the stomach and chest. Simovic is suspected of wounding Kalinic.

Pro-Western Djindjic, who led the ouster of autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, was shot dead in March 2003 in central Belgrade in an operation by disgruntled state security officials, paramilitaries and crime gang members.

Organised crime flourished throughout former Yugoslavia during its breakup in the 1990s, condoned by the authorities who later used criminals for ethnic cleansing and clandestine operations in wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

Hundreds have been killed in gangland shootouts throughout the region since the 1990s, including officials, journalists, publishers, industrialists and underworld figures.

Former Yugoslav republics, all of which seek membership of the European Union, have stepped up cooperation in recent years and have improved efforts to crackdown on organised crime.

"The improvement in political relations had led to an increase in police cooperation, which is yielding results," said Nenad Milic, a former deputy interior minister.