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Yugoslav army allegiance wavers

Milosevic, it seems, cannot count on the army to bail him out after his election defeat.

By a Belgrade journalist

Will Milosevic call on the army and police to end the election crisis? If he does, will they heed his call? That question has dogged citizens of Belgrade as they celebrate the opposition victory in Serbia.

According to Goran Vesic, a senior official in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, alliance, Milosevic has been by-passing army chief of staff Nebojsa Pavkovic since the elections because he doubts his loyalty. Head of the army intelligence service, KOS, Aleksandar Vasiljevic and Svetozar Marjanovic are now in charge.

The deployment of KOS officers across all elite units in the past year has created a parallel command system for Milosevic in the event of the army leadership disobeying him.

If nothing else, this points to widespread uncertainty about army attitudes at all levels. The regime has always relied heavily on the police and the military and previous experience shows Milosevic would not hesitate in calling either out to end the electoral crisis.

However, both institutions have been profoundly shaken by the election. And there is some panic within the regime, as the risk of a mutiny within officer ranks grows by the day. Milosevic has more room for manoeuvre within the police, where he can still expect his orders to be obeyed.

As the vote counting started on election night, the regime's nerves started to jangle. When army and police ballot boxes arrived, DOS members, the Serbian Renewal Movement and even the junior coalition Serbian Radical Party were ejected from the Federal Election Commission. IWPR sources claim three quarters of army and police votes had been cast for Vojislav Kostunica.

The regime's best hope of deploying troops on the street was in the 24 hours after polling, when it could have argued that the opposition was trying to falsely proclaim a Kostunica victory, according to our source within the army.

"As more time passed and Kostunica's win was acknowledged by daily papers, radio stations and even parties that do not support him, such as the Serbian Renewal Movement and the Serbian Radical Party, the chances of an army deployment shrank," the source said.

The 40-hour delay in announcing the results and the Serbian Orthodox Church's recognition of Kostunica as president are said to have influenced army members. Also, many officers respect the rule of law and would not wish to intervene on behalf of someone who has been rejected by the voters. "The regime would be taking a big gamble if they tried to deploy the army this time," said the army source. "Kostunica already enjoys the support of many officers, as he criticised both Milosevic and the NATO campaign and he has never been discredited as a politician."

Kostunica used the opposition rally on September 27 to send a message to the military and the police that their role is to defend the country, not one man and his family. He asked why an army which "courageously fought against NATO should tremble in the face of a single man, Slobodan Milosevic - a tyrant who has lost power and will have to come to terms with that."

Celebrating with the rest of the crowd was a uniformed member of the military police, whose presence at the rally was welcomed by those around him as a good sign.

The president's alleged suspicions about Pavkovic may have been provoked by his shifting position during the elections. A week before the vote, many officers were disgruntled by the general's announcement that troops would be on standby on election day and the army would not allow the regime to be challenged on the streets. High-ranking military figures also ordered officers to vote for Milosevic or face the sack, according to Aleksandr Djurisic of the ruling Montenegrin Democratic Party of Socialists, who says the order greatly upset the "honourable officers of the Yugoslav Army".

Three days after the election, however, Pavkovic announced that the army would accept the results and commented that the police, not the army, was responsible in cases of civil unrest, adding "Milosevic would never order the army to intervene against their own people".

Unlike the police, who are willing tools of Milosevic, the army has only once been used against the protesters - and then unsuccessfully. On March 9 1991, the Presidency of the former Yugoslavia was persuaded by the Serbian regime to crush opposition demonstrations. The order came as the demonstrations were drawing to a close. Tanks and armoured vehicles from the 1st Belgrade Armoured Brigade, which occupied the central streets of Belgrade, retreated to barracks soon after.

Cracks appeared in the army during several months of protest in the winter of 1996-1997. Increased police repression on the streets prompted a revolt by some officers of the 1st Armoured Brigade stationed in the Belgrade municipality of Vozdovac. Only after the intervention of military top brass were officers prevented from joining their wives and children at the demonstrations, where uniformed soldiers were often seen participating. That same year Belgrade newspapers published a letter in which the 63rd Parachute Brigade in Nis declared itself to be on the side of the people, not the regime.

Shortly before the NATO air campaign last year, there was a purge of the army leadership, with Belgrade loyalists promoted to top positions. Pavkovic became Chief-of-Staff and General Dragoljub Ojdanic Minister of Defence.

The Serbian police are a different story, although feelings are mixed there too. The police are currently on standby in Belgrade, where large numbers can be seen around the police stations, reading both the official and independent press. "So what if the authorities have lost elections? It's not the end of the world, you win some, you lose some - that's life. Maybe they'll have better luck next time," one policemen was overheard telling a colleague as they stood in front of a Belgrade police station in full battle gear.

However, sources close to the Serbian police warn that the regime can still count on their obedience, for unlike the army which includes a large number of conscripts, the police represents a professional body still "ready to carry out orders".

Since 1991, it has grown from a poorly equipped and badly organised institution into to a well-armed organisation with 100,000 members and special units stationed in all major Serbian towns.

Milosevic's "parallel army", as the police are known, could intervene at any time and suppress any anti-regime activity. But while such intervention would be brutal at first, in the long run this institution might also splinter and disobey orders.

The writer is a Belgrade-based journalist who wished to remain anonymous.

© Institute of War &Peace Reporting

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