BELGRADE, Serbia – Slobodan Milosevic’s paramilitary commander and 11 other men were convicted and sentenced Wednesday in the assassination of Serbia’s first democratically elected prime minister, Zoran Djindjic.
The Special Court said Milorad Ulemek – former head of Milosevic’s elite Red Berets paramilitary unit set up during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s – organized the March 12, 2003, sniper attack in front of Serbian government headquarters.
Red Berets deputy commander Zvezdan Jovanovic was convicted of pulling the trigger. Both Ulemek and Jovanovic were sentenced to 40 years in prison – the maximum under Serbian law. The other 10 men received sentences between eight and 35 years.
The verdict, read by chief judge Nata Mesarovic, said they conspired to kill Djindjic to halt his pro-Western reforms, bring Milosevic’s allies back to power and stop further extradition of war crimes suspects to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
Outside, several dozen Djindjic followers skirmished with supporters and relatives of the convicts. One person was detained after the brawl.
Djindjic, Serbia’s first democratically elected premier since World War II, spearheaded Milosevic’s removal from power in 2000. He later handed Milosevic over to the U.N. tribunal to answer for his role in a decade of conflict that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. The former Yugoslav leader died of a heart attack in his prison cell last year.