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Yugoslavia: Army Chief Dismissed By President Has Not Gone Quietly

  • Patrick Moore

Prague, 4 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- If any single recent event served to focus international attention on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's domestic political situation, it was his decision to replace General Momcilo Perisic with General Dragoljub Ojdanic as army chief of staff on November 24.

Perisic attracted Serbian public attention with his role in evacuating Yugoslav troops from Zadar in 1991 and as commander in Herzegovina during the Bosnian war, "Vesti" reported.

Subsequently, he repeatedly refused to take sides in the dispute between Milosevic and the Montenegrin leadership and has stressed that the army must stay out of politics.

In early 1997 he reportedly refused to use the army against protesters from the opposition "Zajedno" coalition, and he received a delegation from the demonstrators. A year later, he sent New Year's greetings to Milosevic's political arch-rival, Montenegrin President-elect Milo Djukanovic, and to the Montenegrin police who supported him against Milosevic's backers.

Then in October, Perisic told the daily "Blic" that "the basic problem (in Kosovo) is that a shadow state has existed for years...." He said "there are very few politicians" who are willing to admit that they cannot solve the problem and make way for those who can. Perisic added that armies do not make policy and that the mission of the army is to defend the country.

He noted that Serbs have been fighting a war since 1991 and, in his words, "still have no allies. Not even the Russian Federation...." He added that Serbs had "never been so isolated for so long...." Perisic concluded that "one doesn't make war against the entire world." Some Western press reports suggest that these remarks, along with Perisic's continued good relations with Djukanovic, led to his ouster.

In October, moreover, Milosevic sacked Jovica Stanisic, his intelligence chief. Other key figures whom Milosevic also purged recently include General Ljubisa Velickovic, who headed the Air Force, and Socialist Party deputy chief Milorad Vucelic, who was also director of state-run television. At the same time, persons characterized mainly by their loyalty to Mirjana Markovic, who is Milosevic's wife, rather than by their talents or abilities, have been ascendant.

General Perisic has not gone quietly. He said in a statement after his sacking that Milosevic's decision to fire him came "without consultation, without preparation, and in an illegal fashion." The general added that his dismissal shows that "the current authorities do not wish to have (military) leaders who have a high degree of integrity and who think for themselves." Perisic also noted that he remains "at the disposal of the army, the people, and the state."

Meanwhile, leaders in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, have been reacting to an anticipated crackdown by Belgrade against independence-minded Montenegro by discussing cooperation with Western authorities. Miodrag Vukovic, who is a top adviser to Djukanovic, said that the Montenegrin authorities want an OSCE monitoring mission to come there, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on November 27.

The following day, State Prosecutor Bozidar Vukcevic said that Montenegro recognizes the "legality and legitimacy" of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and will actively cooperate with it.