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Witness of Serbian assassination accuses politicians

Written by: Staff
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BELGRADE, Nov 23 (Reuters) A member of the Belgrade crime gang accused of conspiracy to assassinate Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003 implicated the premier's former deputy today in the plot to kill him.

Dejan ''Bugsy'' Milenkovic, a low-level gangster, is now a protected witness testifying under heavy security. He told a special Belgrade court that Djindjic's deputy Nebojsa Covic was aware of the conspiracy, the Beta news agency reported.

He also testified that ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, a sworn enemy of Djindjic, knew of the plot as well.

Covic, who announced Djindjic's death to the nation after the 50-year-old premier was shot by a sniper in March 2003, was Serbia's main liaison man with NATO after the Western alliance bombed Serbia and occupied Kosovo province in 1999.

''What that Bugsy is saying is a classic lie, a slander and an attempt to besmirch my name,'' Covic told radio station B92.

''I am available to the judiciary and all other state bodies if they believe that I can help in any way in clarifying the murder of Prime Minister Djindjic,'' said Covic, who now heads a small, centrist political party.

Seselj, a virulent opponent of the West's role in Bosnia and Kosovo, faces trial at The Hague on charges of war crimes in the 1990s.

Milenkovic has previously admitted being the driver in one of what he says were seven different scenarios concocted to kill the Serbian reformist.

He drove a truck that swerved into Djindjic's motorcade in February 2003, at a spot where accomplices were waiting to put a rocket-propelled grenade through the window. They failed then, but succeeded less than a month later.

Milenkovic testified the conspiracy to murder Djindjic was hatched by former police commander and foreign legionnaire Milorad ''Legija'' Lukovic and the head of the notorious Zemun crime gang, Dusan Spasojevic.

Spasojevic was shot dead by police shortly after the assassination.

The trial has been dogged by retracted testimony, murdered witnesses and false starts.

In June, key witness Zoran 'Vuk' Vukojevic was found tortured and shot. In September, the presiding judge suddenly quit, later alleging political pressure.

The trial had to be re-started, the evidence re-read.

Djindjic was crucial in toppling former strongman Slobodan Milosevic and extraditing him to the Hague war crimes tribunal in 2001, ending a Socialist-era kleptocracy that had enriched crooked politicians and organised crime bosses for a decade.

REUTERS AB VC1745

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