Coldblooded Justice

Arkan used to brag that he would never go to the U.N. tribunal at The Hague. Indicted as a war criminal in 1997, he'd recently taken precautions, changing homes every few nights in the posh Belgrade neighborhood he shared with other Serb luminaries and traveling with bodyguards in an armored jeep. But he wasn't running from the tribunal; no, the enemies he most feared were local. And, as Arkan and his entourage finished dinner at the Rotisserie French restaurant inside Belgrade's Hotel Intercontinental around 5 p.m. last Saturday, they apparently caught up with him. An unknown number of gunmen sprayed the place with Heckler & Koch submachine guns, the Belgrade underworld's weapon of choice. Arkan caught a slug in the eye--among three head wounds--and was DOA at the city's Emergency Hospital, as were two of his own heavies.

The list of people who wanted Arkan dead is long. A career criminal--he got his start as a hit man for the Yugoslav communists--Arkan ruthlessly built a fortune as a smuggler and war profiteer. The paramilitary unit that he commanded, known as the Tigers, was famous for vicious ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. He was a major figure in Belgrade's mobocracy, and played the role to the hilt. A flashy dresser whose real name was Zeljko Raznatovic, he was married to a Serb pop star, the "turbo folk" singer Ceca. Their primary residence was an extravagantly kitschy villa that overlooked the stadium where the nation's most famous soccer club --Red Star--played its home matches.

The key to Arkan's power was the links he cultivated to Yugoslavia's powerful Serb political establishment. The Milosevic-controlled state media fawned over Arkan and Ceca; in turn, Arkan never attacked the Serb leader, as most other ultranationalists eventually did. What motivated the shooters is unclear, but most observers attrib-ute it to turf wars over the lucrative smuggling trade, rather than internal political struggles--or revenge for Arkan's alleged war crimes.

The day before the Tigers lost their leader, the head of the another brutal militia was convicted of crimes against humanity by the Hague tribunal. The Jokers were a Bosnian Croatian paramilitary outfit that carried out one of the Bosnia war's worst massacres, the slaughter of 116 Muslim men, women and children in the village of Ahmici in 1993. Jokers boss Vladimir Santic got a sentence of 25 years in a Dutch jail; he'll probably have to serve only half that long. Perhaps Arkan should have gone to The Hague after all.