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Pavkovic Sacking Paves Way for Army Reform

Dismissal of army chief of staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic may lead to civilian control of the Yugoslav armed forces
By Daniel Sunter

Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica has forced army chief of staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic into early retirement, in what is being heralded as a major shake-up within the federal military hierarchy.


On June 24, after a protracted session of the Yugoslav Supreme Defence Council, VSO, Kostunica issued a presidential decree sacking Pavkovic, onetime ally of former head of state Slobodan Milosevic, and replacing him with General Branko Krga, a pro-western military intelligence officer.


Krga's appointment together with newly drafted legislation overhauling civil control of military security - soon to go before an emergency session of the federal parliament - paves the way for the reform and depoliticisation of the Yugoslav Army, VJ, and convergence with NATO's Partnership for Peace programme.


Western officials have signalled on several occasions that Yugoslavia would be barred from the latter while Pavkovic remained in charge. The general, besides his close links with Milosevic, commanded federal forces in Kosovo in 1999.


Washington and European Union officials welcomed the move. United States Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said Pavkovic's removal was legitimate and that he hoped the general would accept it. He stressed that Washington considers the establishment of civil control over the army extremely important.


It was the on-going domestic political struggle between Kostunica and Djindjic which proved Pavkovic's final undoing.


Pavkovic had been a crucial ally to Kostunica in the months following Milosevic's overthrow. Despite his previous close association with the latter and alleged involvement in numerous financial scandals, Pavkovic's loyalty and eagerness to cooperate ensured Kostunica's protection.


As the political rivalry between Kostunica and Djindjic worsened both became increasingly dependent on the institutions they controlled - Djindjic on the Serbian police and Kostunica on the VJ.


In early 2002, however, Pavkovic decided to throw in his lot with Djindjic, believing the prime minister was better placed to protect him from legal action on fraud charges and a possible Hague tribunal investigation. This came as a bitter blow to Kostunica as the VJ was the only state institution within his sway.


When Kostunica realised he could no longer rely on Pavkovic's loyalty, the general had to go.


Kostunica tried to remove Pavkovic at a VSO session on March 25, 2002. But Serbian president Milan Milutinovic and his Montenegrin counterpart Milo Djukanovic, both allies of Djindjic, objected.


After the June 24 presidential decree was announced, Djindjic initially backed Pavkovic's protests that the dismissal was illegal. The VJ general staff agreed.


By June 25, however, it was clear Kostunica, as Yugoslav president and supreme commander of the armed forces, was perfectly within his rights to "retire" officers. The international community's positive response also tempered the protests. Krga took up his new duties on the same day.


Replacing Pavkovic with Krga is a gamble for Kostunica. As IWPR senior military sources point out, the president cannot now hope to exercise the same degree of control over the military. Krga has a reputation for resisting political pressure and will battle to keep the army out of political clashes between Kostunica and Djindjic.


"Unlike Pavkovic, Krga will not allow any abuse and he is not compromised by financial scandals. This is why the VJ can now embark on depoliticisation and focus on crucial reform," the source said, also pointing out that Krga spent most of his military career within the VJ intelligence service.


Throughout 2001, Krga was a welcome guest in several western countries and NATO meetings. EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana approved of Krga's appointment, saying he supported all steps to consolidate the principle of civilian control over the armed forces.


Krga's appointment and the new legislation governing military security should deliver a final blow to political abuse within the VJ. Under the new law, the army will come under the strict control of the federal government and parliament and a special inspectorate set up to supervise the military's work. The task of eradicating the Milosevic legacy from within the armed forces can now begin in earnest.


Danijel Sunter is IWPR coordinating editor in Belgrade.


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