Serbia's Gendarmerie police unit is under scrutiny after double murder charges against one of its members prompted the commander's dismissal and reassignment.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 27/07/13
Serbia's elite Gendarmerie police unit has come under scrutiny after recent allegations of criminal activity. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
The Serbian government's response to crime and scandal in the country's elite Gendarmerie police unit has led to mounting pressure for review and reform of the police force and interior ministry.
Citizens and security sector experts have grown increasingly discontent with the police in recent months after an undetermined number of Gendarmerie members were suspected of extortion, blackmail and providing illegal security for hospitality venues in Nis. Among the suspects is the brother of Bratislav Dikic, the unit's former commander. The state prosecutor's office is reviewing an internal police report on the case and has yet to comment on the accusations.
Earlier this month, Gendarmerie member Aleksandar Krstic was arrested under suspicion of murdering two people who owed him money and burning their bodies. When those charges surfaced, Dikic was dismissed by police director Milorad Veljovic, with the support of Prime Minister Ivica Dacic.
"Nobody should be above the system and the state and everyone who disrupts the system and the professionalism of the work of the police and the Gendarmerie must be held to account. This must be a sign to other superiors to keep an eye on what is happening in their units," Veljovic told reporters on July 16th.
In spite of the circumstances surrounding Dikic's dismissal, he was appointed as an assistant to Veljovic less than a week later.
Ministry of the Interior State Secretary Vanja Vukic, who confirmed the move on July 21st, told the Belgrade media that it was not unusual, adding that there would be more changes at the interior ministry.
"Dikic was appointed as assistant police director in line with his knowledge, professional qualifications and years of service, and this was the only available position he could be put in," Vukic said.
Security sector experts were critical of the decision.
Zlatko Nikolic of the Belgrade Institute of Criminological and Sociological Research said Dikic's appointment is possible under the law, but it is difficult to explain.
"In this situation, the ministry of the interior must react efficiently and effectively," Nikolic said, adding that it is clear this behaviour could not repair the image of the police.
Momcilo Vidojevic, president of the Independent Police Trade Union of Serbia, agreed.
"The ministry of the interior must be reorganised from the very top, down through the heads of administrations to the commanders of individual sectors. Only then will we have results. This way it's like the same people who change positions, regardless of how they work, have a monopoly over the functions in the ministry of the interior," Vidojevic told SETimes.
Dikic condemned the murders for which Krstic is charged, but refuted accusations that he was at fault for the actions of his subordinate. He added that if Krstic is found guilty then Veljovic also should be dismissed.
"Evidently my declaration as a Serb in our country of Serbia bothers somebody. The time when that will change will come," said Dikic, who is known for his nationalist views.
Serbian media outlets have reported dissatisfaction among the Gendarmerie, which has about 3,000 members. The Gendarmerie squad that Dikic managed has been disbanded. Experts and police trade unions have warned that it is time for fundamental changes in the police.
Faculty of Security Studies Professor Zoran Dragisic told SETimes that reform must go forward, including an investigation into criminal activity within the police force. He added that there have been previous accusations of criminality within the Gendarmerie.
"The question for the government and the interior minister is why has this been tolerated for so long and who is protecting criminals inside the ministry of the interior," Dragisic said.
Vidojevic also called for change.
"These events bear witness to the need for ministry of the interior reforms and that nobody has full control over this important segment of the security sector," Vidojevic said.
What changes need to occur in the Gendarmerie? Add a comment below.