Belgrade Generals Threaten A Battle With An Empty Rifle

According to the old Serbian proverb, 'an empty rifle does not fire'. It is easily used in connection with the threats of a handful of generals, who want to send the Yugoslav Army back into Kosovo, and soon.

Belgrade Generals Threaten A Battle With An Empty Rifle

According to the old Serbian proverb, 'an empty rifle does not fire'. It is easily used in connection with the threats of a handful of generals, who want to send the Yugoslav Army back into Kosovo, and soon.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

The three generals who commanded the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo before its withdrawal ahead of the NATO advance have said several times that their units might return to the Serbian province "with the agreement of KFOR," or more ominously, "in some other way".

Radovan Lazarevic, commander of the army's Pristina Corps, has been the most direct, claiming to be "prepared to regain Kosovo by force".

The statements have been dismissed by Belgrade's military analysts. Put simply, the Yugoslav Army is not in a position to retake Kosovo by force. Unprepared for offensive operations, without air support, short of fuel and with its lines of communications cut, it would stand no chance even against lesser opposition.

The army is not up to an all-out war with the NATO pact, and its frustrations with the political leadership in Belgrade have weakened morale.

"It seems that there are still people left in the Yugoslav Army whose palms are itching and who would like to pin up another rank," said former army colonel Dragan Vuksic.

Vuksic asked to be retired from service because of what he called the irresponsible policy of the regime in Belgrade towards the problem in

Kosovo and its abuse of the army. He described the generals' talk of a fighting return to Kosovo as neither responsible nor serious.

KFOR claims that small Serbian paramilitary units are crossing over into the province in an attempt to destabilise Kosovo. KFOR spokesman Ole Irgens reported that 20 men in dark uniforms with so far unidentified insignia have been reported in northern Kosovo close to the border with Serbia.

Also, one of three Serbs killed in a gun battle with Russian KFOR peacekeepers in the village of Korminjane on September 6, was found to be carrying a police ID. But this does not add up to evidence that Belgrade is illegally sending special units into Kosovo.

Sources say that neither the police or the paramilitary forces have a motive to return to Kosovo. Nothing is left to loot, and the only thing they may expect there is arrest - possibly even indictment and extradition to face a war crimes trial at The Hague.

This does not rule out the possibility that groups or even adventurous individuals will infiltrate Kosovo. One such group, calling itself the Partisan Movement of Serbia, has issued an unsigned announcement calling on Serbs to liberate Kosovo by next May 6 - the day when Serbia traditionally marks victory over fascism in World War II.

Yet KFOR insists on taking all this seriously. Air exercises over the territory of Kosovo started during the weekend of September 10, to be held twice a week from then on and to involve practice airstrikes on ground forces.

In Belgrade, Ivica Dacic, spokesman of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia, says that Yugoslavia will respect the UN resolution that took the Serb forces out of Kosovo and brought KFOR in, and will not offer NATO cause to issue further threat, blackmail or attacks.

The generals' threats are primarily aimed at a domestic audience. They are encouraged to stay tense in anticipation of new clashes. Those disappointed with the nationalists will be persuaded again that not all is lost and the regime can claim that they do not intend to give up on Kosovo.

The regime in Belgrade would still welcome the political advantage they would probably get if Serb troops return to Kosovo, even if only under the limited conditions of the military-technical agreement that the Yugoslav Army and NATO co-signed in Kumanovo.

According to the provisions in this agreement, several dozen members of the Yugoslav Army are to be allowed to return to take charge of four border crossings, liaise with KFOR and the UN, and a police contingent allowed to take part in demining the guarding of cultural and historical monuments. That's all that will be allowed, and the date for the return of this contingent has not been specified.

In talks with Russian foreign ministry first deputy Alexander Andrejev recently, Slobodan Milosevic demanded that a limited continent of the Yugoslav soldiers and policemen return to Kosovo. The Russians presented this request to the United Nations.

It doubtful that the UN will consider this request quickly, even though the relevant UN Security Council resolution 1244 clearly allows for the eventual reture of "an agreed number of Yugoslav and Serbian personnel".

NATO commander US general Wesley Clark has accused the Yugoslav authorities of trying to "disrupt fragile peace". Clark, however, has not ruled out eventual compliance with the resolution.

Whatever, Milosevic and his propaganda machine would present the return of even a handful of Yugoslav Army troops to Kosovo as a major military and political victory. The representatives of the Western countries are surely aware of this and are unlikely to rush to give such pleasure to the Yugoslav president.

Milenko Vasovic is a regular IWPR contributor from Belgrade.

Support our journalists