Three men have been arrested in last weekend's slaying of Serbia's most notorious warlord, Arkan, police said Saturday. Two of them were said to be former policemen sacked or suspended for links to the underworld.
Police Col. Milenko Ercic identified the suspects as Dobrosav Gavric, 23, allegedly the triggerman; former policeman Dejan Pitulic, 33; and Vujadin Krstic, 36. Pitulic was fired from the police last year and Gavric was officially on sick leave because of links to criminals, Ercic said.
He told reporters the arrests refute speculation that the government of President Slobodan Milosevic was behind the slaying on Jan. 15 of Arkan, whose real name was Zeljko Raznatovic, because he knew too much about the regime's links to Balkan war crimes.
"It is my pleasure to announce that, much to the regret of some who wished otherwise, Belgrade police efficiently and in short term discovered the persons involved," Ercic told reporters.
"Regardless of all assumptions, manipulations that the state or the police may be behind this, that it was some kind of state terrorism, this case is about ex-policemen and criminals," Ercic said.
Ercic refused to talk about the possible motive for the killing of Arkan, who was under indictment by the international war crimes tribunal for atrocities committed during wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Arkan was also a kingpin of the Belgrade underworld, controlling casinos, oil smuggling and other activities in addition to his ownership of a soccer club and other legitimate businesses.
Ercic said the investigation was continuing "to clarify other circumstances."
Arkan was gunned down in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel. Some Belgrade newspapers said he apparently recognized his killer and greeted him with a customary kiss on the cheek before the gunman opened fire.
Raznatovic was buried Thursday after members of his "Tigers" militia praised him as a Serb patriot. Some of them said they believed the Serbian secret police was responsible for his death.
A few days after the attack, Gavric's name surfaced in the state-controlled press, although his first name was given as Dusan. Those reports, which identified him as an accomplice but not the triggerman, said he was wounded in a shootout with Arkan's bodyguard.
However, he managed to stagger to a getaway car, which carried him to the southern town of Loznica, where he sought medical attention. Some newspapers said one unidentified accomplice was arrested trying to cross the border into Hungary.
A spokesman for the war crimes tribunal, Paul Risley, confirmed that intermediaries purportedly representing Arkan had contacted the court last year to discuss his case. Risley, however, said the discussions did not include Arkan's possible surrender and that the tribunal does not cut plea bargains with indicted witnesses for their testimony.
The announcement of th arrests came after a week of silence by the police on the case. Meanwhile, the Yugoslav capital was rife with rumors, some of official involvement, some of a mob hit and others that Arkan had staged the whole thing to allow him to slip away to his native Montenegro and then to some foreign hide-out.
On Thursday, thousands of mourners swarmed to the main Belgrade cemetery to witness the lavish spectacle of a warrior's funeral tinged by elements of urban folk tradition.
Weeping men, women in mink coats and children clutching traditional beeswax candles squeezed into the cemetery's courtyard, craning their necks for a glimpse of Arkan's casket or his popular widow, Ceca, a folk singer.
Six members of Arkan's militia, dressed in camouflage fatigues and maroon berets, stood as an honor guard at the casket.
Arkan's ruthless tactics during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia led to the war crimes charges. His battlefield exploits and earlier criminal record as a bank robber earned him outlaw, folk hero status among many Serbs.
After the recitation of last rites, members of Arkan's militia carried the coffin draped with his militia's flag to a Mercedes-Benz hearse. The militiamen fired off three rounds from their AK-47s before Arkan's casket was lowered into his grave.