Serbia: Milosevic Era Generals Purged

New probe into former chief of staff and his cronies heralds start of drive against anti-reformist forces in the military.

Serbia: Milosevic Era Generals Purged

New probe into former chief of staff and his cronies heralds start of drive against anti-reformist forces in the military.

Serbia's military courts have launched a purge of former Milosevic loyalists in the armed forces with an investigation into generals alleged of abusing their positions and powers.

President of the court, Colonel Djordje Trifunovic, has said they were suspected of manipulating the army housing fund and military real estate.

The group comprises the former chief of staff, Nebojsa Pavkovic and generals Gradimir Zivanovic, Stamenko Nikolic, Branko Fezer, and a colonel, Dobrica Jovanovic.

The police arrested Pavkovic separately on April 1 as part of their crackdown on organised crime, on suspicion that under the Milosevic regime the army had aided and abetted the failed assassination attempt against Vuk Draskovic, leader of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement in June 2000.

The unprecedented investigation by the Army of Serbia and Montenegro, VSCG, is aimed at restoring trust in the institution among the military rank and file, whose confidence has been dented by scandals involving their superiors.

Most of the officers under investigation were Milosevic loyalists who changed their allegiances after his overthrow. Their critics, however, suspected that they never quite severed their ties with the former regime, and accused them of obstructing army reforms.

The military prosecutor said the officers were thought to have embezzled the allocation of military apartments, a highly sensitive issue in the VSCG, as thousands of officers now have to live in expensive rented housing.

Zivanovic and Nikolic were head of the housing affairs department and of the sector for mobilisation and system issues respectively. Jovanovic was secretary of the housing commission for generals and admirals.

The indictment charges that they allocated military apartments to people who were not on the approved lists for such accommodation, for the purpose of material gain.

The military court said it had information concerning 11 apartments that were allocated illegally, though military sources have told IWPR the final number may be much higher. If found guilty, the officers are liable to face prison terms of up to 15 years.

Pavkovic and Fezer have been charged separately on another account of abuse of their positions and powers, concerning the alleged forgery of official ID documents to promote an NCO to officer rank.

If the charges are proven, Pavkovic and the other generals will be seen to have violated the army's all-important social security system. This was regarded as a pillar of stability in the armed forces, which had guaranteed a sense of normality after the trauma of a series of disastrous wars.

The army's comprehensive social security network worked well under the former socialist system. However, economic difficulties had since rendered it untenable. Over the past decade, housing had become a controversial issue because of the shortage of money.

In the old days, the regulations guaranteed all military professionals the right to housing and the right to buy their apartments. But the country's economic crisis has since left over 18,000 active or retired military professionals without their own homes.

Many officers have had to rent apartments, which imposes a serious burden on their resources. The average army salary is 200 and 250 euro, while the average monthly rent for an apartment is around 150 euro. Those unable to afford the accommodation costs simply left active service, or took part-time civilian jobs, which the rules forbid.

A crisis of trust grew up, pitting officers and conscripts against the generals. It was especially acute during Pavkovic's time as chief of the general staff from February 2000 to June 2002, as he was believed to hand out privileges to a clique of close associates.

Pavkovic was accused of restricting the right to home ownership among officers to his favourites - especially after a special commission set up to organise the allocation of flats for officers altered the rules concerning the size of apartments the various ranks were entitled to.

Under the new system, generals became entitled to apartments more than 150 square meters in size - three times the size of the average Serbian flat.

The proceedings against Pavkovic and his associates will be among the last tasks facing the military court. Constitutional reforms in the new Serbian-Montenegrin state will phase out the army's judiciary organs and transfer its powers to civilian courts.

Aleksandar Radic is an independent military analyst based in Belgrade.

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