Serbian police arrest suspects in deadly Croatian bombing

New York, June 3, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the arrests of three additional suspects in the October 2008 murders of Ivo Pukanic, owner and editorial director of the Zagreb-based political weekly Nacional, and Niko Franjic, the publication’s marketing director. Three other suspects had been arrested in November 2008. 

Pukanic and Franjic were killed on October 23, 2008, when a bomb exploded under the editor’s car, which was parked outside the newspaper’s offices. Nacional often exposed corruption, organized crime, and human rights abuses.

Belgrade police arrested Zeljko Milovanovic and Milenko Kuzmanovic over the weekend, according to press reports. Last week, a Belgrade court extended the detention of Sreten Jocic by two months, the Croatian news agency HINA reported. Jocic was arrested in Belgrade in April. The three are being held on suspicion of taking part in the killings but have not been charged.

“We commend Serbian and Croatian authorities for making further progress in investigating the murders of our colleagues Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “We urge the responsible authorities to promptly publicize the details of their progress and prosecute the suspects in a transparent and thorough manner.”

Police said Milovanovic is suspected of installing the explosive under Pukanic’s car and detonating it, according to Agence France-Presse. Police had said previously that they were able to identify Milovanovic by looking at recordings taken by security cameras around Nacional‘s building, according to Croatian press reports.

Milovanovic had been placed on Interpol’s wanted list at the request of Croatian authorities, leading to his arrest by Belgrade police on Sunday in one of the city’s inner districts, according to AFP. Police said that guns, ammunition, and fake passports were found in his apartment, regional press reports said. Croation authorities have described Milovanovic as a former member of a Serbian paramilitary group called the Red Berets.

Belgrade police arrested Kuzmanovic on Saturday at the request of Croatian authorities, the Web site of the independent Serbian broadcaster B92 reported. He is suspected of providing explosives to Milovanovic and helping accomplices–three of whom were detained and charged in early November–flee the bomb scene. According to press reports, Croatian authorities arrested Kuzmanovic last fall on similar charges but released him soon after due to the lack of evidence.

According to the Croatian news Web site Javno, Serbian police arrested Jocic on April 27 after Croatian authorities provided evidence that allegedly connects him to the murders. Police allege that Jocic orchestrated the crime, according to press reports.

Jocic, Milovanovic, and Kuzmanovic are Serbian citizens. Published reports said the absence of an extradition agreement between the two countries could prevent the suspects from being transferred to Croatia. On Monday, the head of the Croatian police, Vladimir Faber, told local journalists that he is confident that Milovanovic will be prosecuted fully, Javno reported.