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New Star of the Serbian Right

Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan, pushes his dark background aside and promises his supporters `everything'

By Jonathan S. LandayStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 3, 1993


HE aspires to all the glitz of a US-style election stump: media hype, a huge campaign war chest, and rallies featuring free performances by pop music idols.

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He has a motorcade and a press bus. His Madison Avenue-size campaign promises proclaim: ``Our program is one in which mothers will have everything; we will give everything to officers and soldiers; we will have everything: milk, bread. Cakes, even.''

And he has a big American-sounding campaign theme: ``We want ... one beautiful, peaceful land called the United States of Serbia.''

Never mind that Serb's seizure of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina has destroyed a country, left hundreds of thousands of people dead, uprooted millions of others, and reduced millions more to penury in a maelstrom of ethnic hatred with no end in sight.

Welcome to the life and times of Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as ``Arkan'' - leader of the Party of Serbian Unity, jail-break expert, former secret police agent, warlord, suspected war criminal, and reputed millionaire crime boss. New boy on the block

A 42-year-old with cherubic cheeks that enhance an air of boyish innocence, Mr. Raznatovic has emerged as the new standard-bearer of Serbia's far-right in Dec. 19 snap elections for the Serbian Assembly.

Widely perceived as creatures of President Slobodan Milosevic, Raznatovic and his party are believed to have been fielded by the Serbian ruler to drain votes away from his former champion of ultra-nationalism, Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party and rival paramilitary chief.

Mr. Seselj's party won second place in assembly polls last year and provided the support that allowed Mr. Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, which took the largest bloc of seats but fell short of a majority, to form a minority government.

But Seselj and Milosevic fell out when the radical leader challenged his former patron by calling a no-confidence vote in his party in October. Milosevic dissolved the assembly before the vote could be held, called the upcoming elections, and turned to Raznatovic.

In addition to diverting support from Seselj, analysts say that Raznatovic is also useful because his rabid nationalism offers a contrast to Milosevic and the socialists that reinforces their cosmetic change to a more conciliatory image adopted to obtain a lifting of United Nations sanctions.

Raznatovic first won notoriety as the commander of the ``Serbian Volunteer Guard'' and ``Serbian Tigers,'' the most dreaded and highly trained of the paramilitary bands that Milosevic nurtured as part of the territorial conquests he oversaw in Bosnia and Croatia.

Used as ruthless shock troops, Raznatovic's fighters played a prominent role in the devastating siege of the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar and spearheaded ``ethnic cleansing'' assaults against Muslim Slavs in the northern Bosnian towns of Bijeljina and Zvornik.

The United States and international human rights groups have named Raznatovic as a suspected war criminal, alleging his involvement in mass killings of non-Serb war prisoners and civilians.

In addition to being a likely defendant before the UN war crimes tribunal, Raznatovic is reportedly sought by Interpol for crimes he allegedly committed during the 1980s, including armed robbery, in several western European countries. ``I don't know if there is a warrant for me,'' replies Raznatovic, at ease as he spoke recently aboard his press bus. ``I know they are hounding me for war crimes.''

``I should ask them to go to Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Vietnam, and Angola,'' he says, alternating between Serbian and proficient English. ``These were places where war crimes were committed. I committed no war crimes,'' he says. ``We were defending our homes, and our families.''