Serbia: Reform of Security Forces Stalled

Police and army reforms fall victim to Yugoslavia's political infighting.

Serbia: Reform of Security Forces Stalled

Police and army reforms fall victim to Yugoslavia's political infighting.

Wednesday, 10 October, 2001

The authorities in Yugoslavia have been accused of backing away from promises to place the police and army under the authority of parliament.

In Serbia, critics say the ruling coalition, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, led by the Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic, is behaving like the old regime of Slobodan Milosevic in trying to keep the police apparatus under its exclusive control.

The Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, a bitter political rival of Djindjic, is accused of behaving in much the same way towards the armed forces.

This political patronage means that although both the army and police are now cooperating with their Western counterparts, badly needed reforms have been put on hold or replaced with purely cosmetic changes.

The struggle between Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party, and Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia,

began immediately after the fall of the Milosevic regime on October 5, 2000.

As the new federal president, Kostunica assumed control over the armed forces, while Serbia's new premier duly took charge of the Serbian interior ministry, which handles the republic's police and the security services, RDB.

Kostunica inherited a bulky military outfit with a large number of units and soldiers, outdated weapons and a corpus of generals appointed by Milosevic as a reward for their political loyalty.

The chief of staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, won Kostunica's support on October 5, when he ignored Milosevic's demand to put down the anti-government demonstrations in Belgrade and instead sent him a signal that the army would recognise him as head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces.

In spite of the fact that he had been in charge of the army in Kosovo during NATO's air campaign in 1999, Kostunica left Pavkovic in his post, disregarding protests by some parties in DOS and human rights organisations.

Kostunica had an additional motive for leaving Pavkovic in charge. He seems to have feared that drastic personnel changes in the army could lead to a take-over by officers loyal to his rival Djindjic.

The army in consequence remains in the grip of the old generals who have no interest in structural reforms.

Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, a military expert, believes it would be far more efficient if troop numbers were slashed from 80,000 to 30,000, with an increase in professional soldiers, especially in the elite infantry and commando units.

He and other military experts want cuts in the number of inefficient infantry units, mechanised brigades with outdated T-55 tanks and air fleets relying on old MiG-21 planes.

Under the pressure of this criticism, the Milosevic-era army leadership was entrusted with drafting a law seven months ago. It is still to be discussed in parliament. However, as could probably be anticipated, the proposed changes are minor.

The proposed law has drawn criticism from military experts and human rights groups, as it envisages the maintenance of a huge conscript army and grants no exemption to conscientious objectors, which is standard practice in most European countries.

The army announcement in October that some light infantry units would be disbanded and that 336 military objects

and barracks would be sold is seen as a gesture towards financial economy rather than as a sign of any willingness to engage in structural reform.

Changes to the police have encountered similar obstructions. After DOS won an absolute majority in the Serbian parliament and formed a government in February 2001, the question of the new police minister turned into a tug of war between Djindjic and Kostunica.

A compromise candidate was found in the form of New Democracy leader Dusan Mihajlovic - a man acceptable to both DOS leaders, though recent months have shown his basic loyalty is to Djindjic.

Milosevic's close associate, Rade Markovic, was replaced

as head of the RDB by Sreten Lukic. Markovic and his associates were soon arrested on charges of organising political killings in Serbia and abusing their official positions.

However, the RDB has undergone no real reform, despite government officials' pledges. Nor have its functions been separated from the interior ministry and placed under parliament's control. Instead, DOS officials have manoeuvred to have their political favourites appointed to the top positions in the police.

The public is deeply critical of the Serbian authorities

for failing to reinstate policemen sacked by Milosevic.

They were also disappointed by the Serbian government's decision to grant public access to security service files, as it turned out that these dossiers had been censored and all the crucial references to police informers cut out. The new directorate set up to combat organised crime has only shown scant results.

One positive advance has been the renewal of cooperation with Western police forces. British police instructors, for example, are now helping their Serbian colleagues set up a multi-ethnic force for the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia, which has a large Albanian population. In September 2001, Yugoslavia rejoined Interpol.

Overall, however, army and police reforms have been sacrificed to the political struggle between Kostunica and Djindjic, neither of whom have any interest in seeing their security organisations become genuinely transparent and independent.

Daniel Sunter is IWPR assistant editor in Belgrade.

Serbia, Kosovo
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