Second Army's Reinforcement Leaves Montenegrins Nervous

According to some observers, the Federal Army's troop numbers in Montenegro has doubled since the fighting against NATO ended and the tensions between Belgrade and Podgorica have deepened.

Second Army's Reinforcement Leaves Montenegrins Nervous

According to some observers, the Federal Army's troop numbers in Montenegro has doubled since the fighting against NATO ended and the tensions between Belgrade and Podgorica have deepened.

Hundreds of soldiers from Serbia are crossing into Montenegro to boost the ranks of the Yugoslav Second Army based there. The generals say they are simply filling up empty barrack space - but many Montenegrins suspect a more hostile purpose.

The Army says war-service reservists have been sent home now the fighting in neighbouring Kosovo has been brought to an end, coinciding with the routine end of the year's cycle of military service for new draftees. That opens up plenty of barrack space for new troops.

At the same time the troop rotations and demobilisation have left the Second Army and Yugoslav Navy units are short staffed, they say, and fresh forces are needed to 'maintain the level of military alert' in Montenegro.

Observers are not convinced. According to some estimates, even after the demobilisation of the reservists, the number of soldiers serving with Second Army is twice its normal peacetime figure. They say the purpose is to press the Montenegrin government to ease its criticism of the Belgrade authorities.

During the conflict with NATO, the number of Yugoslav Army soldiers in Montenegro, still federated with Serbia as Yugoslavia, increased from seven to fourteen thousand. Although many Montenegrin men did not heed their army call-up, a large number were forced to join the army under threat of martial law.

With the end of the fighting in Kosovo, the Montenegrin government asked Belgrade to order demobilisation and a return to the peacetime level of 7,000 Army troops normally based in Montenegro. According to the Second Army it has demobilised 25,000, but according to sources close to the Montenegrin republic police - who keep a close eye on the Federal Army - more than 13,000 troops remained under arms and Belgrade's command and based in Montenegro.

Supporters of Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic, a long time critic of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, fear that these troops are forming the core of a strike force loyal to Milosevic in the event of direct confrontation between Belgrade and Podgorica.

These fears were reinforced by Belgrade's recently announced plans to re-create a federal police force, and its intention to make up its ranks with Yugoslav army veterans loyal to the Serbian government. Djukanovic has warned that the Belgrade government would defy the constitution and use the Federal Police to take over Montenegrin borders and customs service, as the Army did during the Kosovo conflict.

"We do not need a parallel police and any attempt to establish such a force should be cut off at its roots," said Montenegrin deputy Interior Minister Vuk Boskovic. Such words fall on deaf ears in Belgrade, where according to Djukanovic, senior officers are already being recruited for the new force.

The Podgorica weekly Monitor reports that training bases for the new force have already been set up in several Montenegrin cities, to induct ex-Yugoslav army officers and men. However Monitor reports that not all is harmonious within the Second Army itself. According to the weekly around 40 Yugoslav Army soldiers, from regular soldiers to colonels have pointedly rejected the Belgrade option and opted instead to apply for jobs with the Montenegrin republic police.

Most are Montenegrins, siding with their own, but financial factors also play an important part. Belgrade's federal budget is empty; the Army's soldiers are complaining that their already meagre salaries are several weeks late. In contrast Djukanovic has invested a considerable amount of money in the police force controlled by the Montenegrin ministry of the interior.

These salaries are not only greater than the equivalent army wage, but also paid on time. Though it lacks heavy arms, from uniforms down to communications light weapons, the ministry forces are visibly better equipped. The size of the Montenegrin police force is not known, but reasonable estimates put its numbers at about 12,000.

Several supporters of Montenegrin independence were reported to have joined the Montenegro's reserve police forces during the NATO intervention. In the town of Cetinje, historic former capital of Montenegro, independence activist Bozidar Bogdanovic even formed a military unit to defend the town in case of confrontation with Belgrade forces. Police took action to prevent Bogdanovic's men from provoking an incident with locally based Army forces, but did not disband the unit, merely put it under police command.

Djukanovic's critics among the Liberal Union and Montenegrin Socialist Party (SNP), who are still loyal to Milosevic, have called for the Montenegrin ministry police to be broken up. Djukanovic will resists this as long as there is a risk that Belgrade might meet increasing demands for greater autonomy from Podgorica with force.

In the meantime Belgrade has reacted coolly to Podgorica's proposals to reorganise and 'professionalise' the Yugoslav Army. In a meeting called by the Montenegrin government earlier this month its official informed Belgrade of its wish to relax tensions, but also to see the army subdivided between the two constituent republics.

Podgorica suggested that the army would have separate command structures, allowing the Montenegrin president to command the units on his own territory, while on the Federal level the command would be carried out by consensus.

The arrival of new troops to fill Montenegro's federal army barracks could be intended as a sharp rejoinder to such requests.

Milka Tadic is the editor of the independent magazine Monitor in Podgorica.

Serbia, Kosovo
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