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Ex-Serb president's body found

Stambolic
Stambolic in an August 2000 file photo

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SPECIAL REPORT
SPECIAL REPORT

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Serbian police say they have found the remains of former President Ivan Stambolic, who disappeared while jogging in Belgrade in August 2000.

Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said Stambolic had been executed, and that his murder was politically motivated.

Once a mentor of Slobodan Milosevic, Stambolic later became a bitter critic of the former Yugoslav leader and his autocratic policies. He disappeared shortly after Milosevic was ousted.

"His (Stambolic's) remains have been dug out of a pit in Mount Fruska Gora," Mihajlovic told a news conference, referring to a hilly region in northern Serbia.

"He was executed with two shots and buried in a quicklime pit dug out in advance."

The discovery was made during the hunt for the assassins of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Mihajlovic, who heads the Serbian police force, said the aim had been to remove Stambolic, Serbia's president before Milosevic took over in the late 1980s, as a possible candidate in the following month's presidential election.

Mihajlovic said police would question Milosevic, who lost the election and is currently standing trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, as well as his wife Mirjana.

"The investigation has established that Stambolic's execution was politically motivated," he said.

"The aim was to remove Stambolic as a possible candidate in the presidential elections and this clearly shows who might have ordered his execution."

The final years of Milosevic's turbulent rule were marked by a series of unsolved high-profile killings and kidnappings, which also included the assassination of then Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic in February 2000. (Full story)

The Serbian reformers who ousted Milosevic in a popular uprising in October 2000 have been under pressure to resolve Milosevic-era killings since they took office.

The government has launched a huge crackdown on organized crime after the March 12 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who played a key role in ousting Milosevic.

Mihajlovic said he could not reveal the names of Stambolic's four alleged abductors but said they were in jail, as was their former boss, Milosevic-era state security chief Rade Markovic.

Stambolic's son Veljko, 36, told The Associated Press: "I will finally be able to bury my father's body and light a candle at his grave. Now we can give him a decent funeral and mourn him properly."


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