Serbs Look to Russia for Milosevic's Wife

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- The wife of former President Slobodan Milosevic has fled to Russia, Serbia's Interior Ministry said Saturday, as a police investigation into the recent assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic raised suspicions that she was involved in an earlier political murder.

The ministry said that police were "searching intensely" for Mirjana Markovic, citing "credible suspicions of her involvement in the murder" of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic.

An order to detain Markovic for questioning was issued Friday, shortly after police found the remains of Stambolic, a Milosevic foe who had been missing since August 2000.

After questioning two of Markovic's associates, officials from her neo-communist Yugoslav Left party, police learned that "Markovic left the country Feb. 23 and is currently in the Russian Federation," the statement said.

The authorities said they have informed her lawyers that an international warrant for her arrest would be issued unless she returns immediately.

Milosevic's brother, Borislav, a former ambassador to Russia who lives in Moscow, refused to comment when reached by telephone.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also refused to comment.

The discovery of Stambolic's body, shot with two bullets and thrown into a lime pit in northern Serbia, came as police rounded up and questioned thousands of Milosevic-era war veterans, drug traffickers and various underworld figures who are suspects in Djindjic's murder.

The investigation of Djindjic's March 12 slaying also has shed light on the unsolved Stambolic case.

The Interior Ministry called Markovic a "person of utmost political influence" at the time of Stambolic's murder, but did not elaborate on specific details of her alleged involvement. No formal charges have been brought.

The ministry said late Saturday that it had arrested the acting president of Milosevic's Socialist Party, Bogoljub Bjelica, "in the course of arresting people who had ordered and incited" Djindjic's murder.

As many as 1,984 people have been arrested in the crackdown triggered by Djindjic's assassination, including a suspected gunman and dozens of crime figures that allegedly helped organize the murder.

Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said Friday that members of the elite police Unit for Special Operations, founded under Milosevic and active in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, shot Djindjic and also abducted and killed Stambolic in August 2000. The unit was disbanded last week by government decree.

Stambolic was Serbia's president from 1986 until 1987, when Milosevic, at the time his protege and a fellow member of the then-ruling Communist Party, engineered a coup, taking over the leadership of both the party and the presidency. Milosevic later became president of Yugoslavia.

Stambolic disappeared while jogging in a Belgrade park in August 2000.