Accessibility links

Balkan Report: September 19, 2003

19 September 2003, Volume 7, Number 31

IS THE U.S. PLANNING TO PULL ITS TROOPS OUT OF THE BALKANS? London's "Financial Times" reported on 17 September that unnamed "senior American military officers, particularly in the beleaguered U.S. Army, are pushing the Pentagon to withdraw all U.S. peacekeepers from the Balkans to make resources and troops available for overstretched operations in Iraq. Although the number of U.S. forces in the two NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia is relatively small -- 1,500 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, two-thirds of which are logistics personnel, and 2,000 in Kosovo -- people [familiar with] the internal Pentagon debate said the army has insisted on the move."

The daily noted that "a pull-out would be a significant reversal for [President George W. Bush's] administration, which as recently as June brushed off EU overtures to take over the 12,000-strong force in Bosnia, arguing that [the United States] needed to keep a presence to hunt down Islamic militants in the region. Colin Powell, secretary of state, has repeatedly said U.S. Balkan policy is: 'We went in together and we will come out together.'"

The daily suggested that the Pentagon wants the EU to do more for security in Europe because some key EU members are unwilling to be helpful in Iraq, calling this a "division of labor."

The "Financial Times" also notes that "opposition [to the pullout] from some Pentagon civilians, as well as State Department officials, centers on the diplomatic impact of withdrawing, as well as whether European allies -- particularly the French and Germans -- can successfully take over operations.... A withdrawal of U.S. forces could be particularly problematic in Kosovo, where local leaders have insisted only American forces can serve as neutral arbiters."

Other observers note that many Bosnian Muslims as well as Kosovars regard the United States as the only "serious" military security force in the region and do not trust the EU to do the job. Such observers argue that a withdrawal of U.S. forces would prompt some leaders in the region to take security matters into their own hands again rather than trust the EU.

Yet other questions might arise over the EU's long-term military goals in regard to the United States, particularly where Paris and Berlin are concerned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002, and 27 June and 5 September 2003).

In any event, it seems clear that the Pentagon is indeed reexamining its options. General Richard Myers, who chairs the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Prishtina on 17 September that the United States is reassessing its priorities, adding that one option "on the table" is for EU troops to take over in the Balkans, Reuters reported. He argued that the various U.S.-troop commitments around the world "all add up."

Myers nonetheless noted that Kosova or Bosnia-Herzegovina would be "a much bigger operation" for the EU than Macedonia, and hence "more difficult," adding that Washington will not act unilaterally on reducing troop deployments. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S GOVERNMENT TOTTERS ALONG. Just one year after the 15 September 2002 parliamentary elections which brought about a change of government, the administration is facing its first serious crisis. It was sparked by "misunderstandings" between the governing Social Democrats (SDSM) and their ethnic Albanian coalition partners of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) over a police operation to arrest armed groups in northern Macedonia.

Although these groups declared themselves to be part of a separatist organization named the Albanian National Army (AKSH), they are widely believed to be merely organized criminal groups involved in trafficking cigarettes, drugs, and human beings. The main suspects wanted by the Interior Ministry are Avdil "Jackal" Jakupi and Hamdi "Breza" Bajrami. Jakupi took responsibility for kidnapping two persons on 27 August, which led to the controversial police operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003).

The SDSM and the BDI subsequently talked at length in order to ease the tensions within the government. The main point at issue was the BDI's perception that its government officials were excluded from the decision-making process that led to the operation.

Then, in a surprise move on 11 September, Interior Minister Hari Kostov ordered his deputy, Hazbi Lika, Deputy State Security Agency Director Fatmir Dehari, and the deputy head of the bureau for public security, Besir Deari, to prepare a plan for arresting Jakupi and Bajrami within a month. Kostov ordered the plan to be ready by 2 p.m. on 12 September.

He threatened to sack the three men for incompetence if they did not produce the plan or carry out the arrests in time. Kostov said he himself would go on vacation, but insisted that his three subordinates inform him on a daily basis about their progress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 9, and 11 September and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 and 12 September 2003).

The BDI, for its part, rejected the ultimatum set by Kostov as "blackmail." Meetings of the BDI leadership followed. When an Interior Ministry working group discussed the action plan that was to be prepared by Lika, Dehari, and Deari, the BDI demanded that not only BDI members be in charge of the arrest of Jakupi and Bajrami, but also senior ethnic Macedonian Interior Ministry officials.

On 13 September, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the SDSM and the BDI's Ali Ahmeti met to discuss Kostov's ultimatum and its possible consequences. During that meeting, Ahmeti reportedly repeated the charges that the ethnic Albanian government members were not included in the decision-making.

In the end, Crvenkovski agreed to BDI demands that responsibility for Interior Ministry operations be shared by all coalition partners, not just the Albanians. Ahmeti and Crvenkovski agreed that an ethnically mixed Interior Ministry working group will prepare an action plan for the arrests of Jakupi and Bajrami by 16 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003).

In the meantime, commentators such as Branko Gjorgjevski doubt that this approach will lead to lasting stability. "One operation to arrest two commanders will not resolve problems that are more deeply rooted," Gjorgjevski wrote in "Dnevnik" of 15 September.

Already on 13 September, Sonja Kramarska charged in her editorial for "Utrinski vesnik" that Kostov had treated serious issues lightly. In her view, BDI Deputy Chairman Agron Buxhaku was right when he said if Kostov wanted to go on vacation he had to transfer all responsibilities to his deputy Lika, not only responsibility for the arrest of Jakupi and Bajrami.

Whether these two men can be arrested in the near future remains to be seen. According to unconfirmed reports, Jakupi was wounded in a shootout with security forces in northern Macedonia and was then taken abroad for treatment.

Bajrami, for his part, seems to be well. The Albanian-language daily "Fakti" quoted Bajrami as saying on 14 September that he will not surrender voluntarily. On the contrary, he threatened to attack targets in northern Macedonia and Skopje if the government fails to issue an amnesty decree for him within 10 days.

The main question, however, is whether the SDSM-BDI-led government can survive. The police operation, which obviously sparked fears of renewed violence among the ethnic Albanian population in the former crisis area, weakened the BDI's position within the government. Now the party is struggling to regain credibility among its voters. Kostov's ultimatum will not make that process any easier. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIA ENDS THE DRAFT. In his 1995 song "K soldatom" ("Joining the Army"), Adi Smolar voices the chagrin of every young man facing "calisthenics at six, latrine duty, and sleeping alone," singing "Danes bom pijan, rad bi pozabu!" ("Today I'm gonna get drunk, I wanna forget!").

Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop and Defense Minister Anton Grizold put an end to such laments with their announcement on 9 September that the October "generation" of draftees will not be called up (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2003). The decision, officially ending obligatory military service in Slovenia, was widely expected.

Although the professionalization of the Slovenian Armed Forces (SV) is taking place nine months earlier than originally planned, the SV was already reducing the number of conscripted soldiers in its quarterly call-ups. In January 2003, 861 men began obligatory service, and in April only 409, "Delo" reported on 14 September.

One officer admitted that the past year has been difficult. Seven months, he says, was too brief to properly train conscripts, many of whom were reluctant to perform service in the first place. On 16 August "Delo" noted that officers outnumbered conscripts in the SV. Some units, such as the 760th Artillery Battalion in Slovenska Bistrica, lost their last conscript in July -- leaving 52 officers and NCOs to command 8 career soldiers.

Observations by Slovenes who served in the military over the past decades are instructive, both for what they say about the politics of the past and the various generations' perspective on today's changing system.

Franc began military service in the Yugoslav army (JNA) in 1951, his son recounts. His was the last group drafted for three years, and tensions were still high following the 1948 break with the USSR. Franc served as a sharpshooter on the Romanian border, where sporadic shooting took place, and noted that the JNA faced off against the East bloc with American weapons.

Janez (drafted in 1958), today a genial bespectacled professor, recalls his experience in the artillery in Croatia quite positively. Stalin's death in 1953 eased international relations, and military service was a time of strong friendships and camaraderie. Slovenes today, he says, have little inclination for a military career, and their officers lack a proper sense of bearing.

Stane (called up in 1966) also recalled lifelong friendships made in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the solidarity among conscripts against the officers. Defiant adventures -- such as sneaking out of the barracks to attend midnight mass in uniform -- helped pass the time during his two years of service.

Dejan's service in 1978 coincided with rapid economic growth in Slovenia, when many focused on getting ahead. He characterized his experience in Bosnia as a waste of time, and noted the widespread conviction that the Serbs held a privileged position over other ethnic groups in the military.

Tomaz (drafted in 1984) rejected the federal army even more strongly, and considered defecting to Italy to evade service. He noted his cultural alienation from the Serbian-dominated military, and recalled his hatred for his officers when he was not granted leave from Zagreb for his daughter's birth. The political indoctrination, he says, was both oppressive and paranoid.

Lovro (called up in 1988) spent his year of military service in Serbia, arriving only two weeks after a Kosovar conscript murdered five fellow soldiers in the barracks. He recalled officers' suspicion of Slovenian draftees because of Slovenian political support for the Kosovars, and said Slovenes were singled out for weekly interrogations on possible links with ethnic Albanians.

Zoran (drafted in 1991) never completed his military service. As events heated up in June that year, he and his fellow Slovenian conscripts escaped through the window of the JNA barracks in Zadar, Croatia, and boarded the next train to Slovenia.

Crt (called up in 2003) was in the second-to-last group of draftees to serve in the SV. He noted that some employers were reluctant to hire men who had not yet done their service.

Although most Slovenes interviewed feel that the professionalization of the SV is a necessary move, others voiced regrets. Sveto (drafted in 1985) characterized it as a rite of passage and Lovro noted that the experience helped shape some young men's characters. Miso Alkalaj observed that drafted soldiers can more readily act as spoilers against their superiors in morally questionable situations, citing the ineffectiveness of the JNA in Slovenia in 1991.

A "Delo" editorial on 11 September voiced concerns that it is premature to end the draft now, citing deficiencies in the SV. A recruitment system has not been developed, living arrangements are inadequate for professional soldiers, and the military's infrastructure is outdated, the article charged.

In a 9 September interview on national television, Grizold predicted that the professional army will cost 2 percent of GNP from 2008 onwards. Initial estimates of a 25,000-strong force have been reduced to 14,000, the minister said.

Neighboring countries will be closely observing developments in Slovenia. Croatia recently affirmed its interest in professionalizing its army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2003). (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "[Guy Theissier, chairman of the French parliament's Defense Affairs Committee] proposed imposing a special kind of punishment tax on European countries that buy armaments in the U.S.A., which would go into a [European military] research fund.... 'European foreign policy needs an armed element that can come into being only through the strong political will of those involved.... We will soon need to take institutional and industrial decisions that will have ramifications for decades to come' [he said]." -- "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," 17 September.

"I like this work. It is stressful because we are always at risk, but I would fight a war for the European Union, if necessary. The EU is much closer to our hearts as citizens of Europe than NATO, which is often seen as a representative of the United States." -- Lieutenant Tsialikis Asterios, a Greek soldier on patrol in the village of Bukovic, Macedonia. Quoted in "The Christian Science Monitor" of 9 September.

"Especially after the Iraq war, the EU has splintered between the French Continental camp and the British Transatlantic camp. The French camp hopes the EU military will serve as a counterweight to U.S. hegemony. The British are terrified that this could damage their transatlantic alliance." -- Sam Vaknin, a regional analyst, quoted in ibid.

"It is true that EUFOR has coordinated the mission in Macedonia perfectly, but this is the military equivalent of homework for the first grade. We are going to declare Concordia a success, of course, but it is a relative success because this was a relatively easy mission. In my view, the mission in Bosnia is too big for the EU to swallow at this point. They have very little in terms of air lift and transport capabilities, and they rely heavily on NATO for intelligence." -- Stevo Pendarovski, a Macedonian security adviser, quoted in ibid.

"Our troops took part in several difficult operations in Iraq, side by side with United States special units. Last week's operation against Albanian gunmen in the north was similar to those actions -- professional, accurate, and with a low casualty rate." -- An unnamed Macedonian army source to dpa in Skopje on 16 September.