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Kostunica Defies DOS Allies

President Vojislav Kostunica resists calls for the immediate removal of Milosevic's army and police chiefs
By Daniel Sunter

Serbia's transitional government is at breaking point following Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's refusal to purge the security services of Milosevic loyalists.


Ministers from the Democratic Alliance of Serbia, DOS, and the Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO, are threatening to boycott government sessions unless the head of state security, RDB, Rade Markovic is sacked.


DOS, which backed Kostunica for the presidency, is also calling for the removal of the army's chief-of-staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic.


Kostunica, however, continues to resist calls for the dismissal of the two Milosevic allies. "I am sure that it is not the will of the people to replace everybody in the various institutions (army and police) just because they were members of (Milosevic's) Socialist Party of Serbia," he said at the weekend.


The Yugloslav president's stand has aggravated tension within the DOS coalition and mystified Serbian voters.


DOS has been demanding the two men be removed since the beginning of November. One of the coalition's leaders, Zoran Djindjic, said all the DOS member parties, including Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, had agreed Markovic should be removed immediately, while changes to the army's top brass had been agreed at a DOS meeting on October 7.


"I don't understand Kostunica's motives. All the DOS leaders have agreed that Pavkovic and Markovic should go," said fellow DOS leader Dragan Veselinov. "The current chief of staff and the RDB head are a major threat to peace in the country."


Prior to a recent session of the Supreme Defence Council, the highest federal military authority, in Podgorica, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said he too would call for the resignation of Pavkovic along with several other senior military officers.


But the only official outcome from the meeting was a brief announcement on the improved security situation in Yugoslavia. Pavkovic, who attended the session, survived presumably with the help of Kostunica.


On October 4, Kostunica said the leadership of the army and the RDB should only be changed after DOS had formed a government at federal and republican level - that is after the December 23 elections.


"Hasty moves to remove people from senior positions in the army and the police would lead to a destabilisation of the state," Kostunica said.


Sources in Kostunica's party say the president believes any rapid personnel changes would only result in the various interest groups inside DOS appointing their own people to top positions - something Kostunica considers illegal. But no one else in DOS agrees with the president.


The discovery of a hit list, sent by the Milosevic regime to army and police chiefs during the tumultuous days in early October, has only fuelled annoyance, especially over Markovic's continued tenure at the RDB.


"Evidence has emerged that we could have been executed. We cannot feel indifferent. This is why we began to ask that Markovic be removed immediately," Djindjic said.


Pavkovic has admitted receiving a list of around 40 names on October 5 with a request that those named "disappear by dawn". Some - including Djindjic, Kostunica, Velimir Ilic, Vladan Batic, Nebojsa Covic and Momcilo Perisic - had circles around their names, which army HQ understood to be equivalent to a death warrant.


Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, a former spokesman for the Yugoslav army and a military political commentator, said the removal of Pavkovic and his clique would not destabilise the army. Rather such a move would help bring about the removal of other Milosevic loyalists and liberate soldiers from the "nasty ideology of the former president's cult."


Yugoslav officers are already beginning to voice their grievances with the high command. For example two MiG-29 pilots from the elite 127 "Knights" squadron, lieutenant colonels Slobodan Peric and Nebojsa Milutinovic, have brought charges against the commander of the Yugoslav Air Force, General Spasoje Smiljanovic, because they were ordered out to fly combat missions without radar support.


Peric also claims Smiljanic publicly called on officers to vote for Milosevic while inspecting the squadron at Batajnica on the eve of the September 24 elections.


The Belgrade media has been fiercely critical of the decision to allow Pavkovic and Markovic to remain in office. Editor of Nedeljni Telegraf (Sunday Telegraph) Momcilo Djorgovic called on Kostunica to replace Milosevic appointees in the army and police as quick as possible to preserve DOS unity ahead of the December elections.


Djorgovic warned "evil tongues" were already saying Kostunica was distancing himself from DOS and moving closer to the structures of the former Serbian regime.


But a source from Kostunica's party rejected the charge. "The media have gone too far," the source said. "We understand that everybody wants the people from the former regime to be changed. I remind you that like everyone else, Kostunica supports changes in the army and the RDB. The only difference is that he believes these should be carried out through legal institutions when new Serbian authorities have been established."


Several analysts in Belgrade warn the differences over Markovic and Pavkovic should not be overplayed. The dispute, they argue, is no more damaging than the continued obstructionism of die-hard Milosevic supporters in the transitional government.


Although the resignation issue is eating into the coalition's unity, the analysts argue, necessity will ensure DOS holds together until after December 23 and the establishment of democracy in Serbia.


While questions over who should command the army and police preoccupy the transitional government, most ordinary Serbians are more concerned the disputed chain of command could threaten law and order on the streets.


Despite the friction within the government, however, the ministry of interior, MUP, which deals with the police, appears to be working reasonably effectively.


"Regardless of the events surrounding the state security service and its chief Markovic, the department for public security functions normally," said one police officer.


After the December 23 elections, he expected the new government would reduce the number of police officers from 100,000 to 50,000, mostly be shedding those recruits who had only completed a short and unsatisfactory training course.


"We shall decentralise the police and everything will be brought down to the level of towns or districts," the officer said. "We will form a gendarmarie force within the MUP, that will be in charge of special tasks - border control, securing public gatherings, anti-terrorist actions and the like - which will make it easier for ordinary police to become more efficient.


"We shall improve the image of the Serbian policeman - starting with the uniform, to the treatment of citizens. We shall regain the trust of the citizens."


But many Serbians remain sceptical. For ten years Milosevic actively merged the police with criminal elements to build his own private army. Reversing that process will be painful and possibly violent.


Daniel Sunter is a regular IWPR contributor.


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