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Balkan Report: November 29, 2002

29 November 2002, Volume 6, Number 44

ROGUISH BEHAVIOR IN BELGRADE? International attention has again focused on Serbia's possible role in illegal arms sales to Iraq. The specific charges raised in the media and by an NGO report will most likely lead to calls for clear answers (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 October and 8 November 2002).

London's "The Guardian" reported on 25 November that "Yugoslavia is the hub for East European arms smugglers and military experts who have been supplying [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein with crucial equipment and know-how to help him frustrate a U.S. air campaign against Iraq. Senior Western officials and regional analysts say that Serbia is the center of the illicit trade.... The trade has been going on for some time, and has even increased since the toppling of [President] Slobodan Milosevic, a Saddam ally, in 2000."

The daily added that "despite claims by senior Yugoslav officials, including President Vojislav Kostunica, that they knew nothing of the trade, documents seen by 'The Guardian' show that the Kostunica administration was warned in January [2002] by its Foreign Ministry of the damage being done by its trading with Iraq. The Kostunica cabinet then voted to continue with the clandestine deals."

The British paper also reported that a new study by the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG) concludes that "according to [unspecified] diplomatic sources, the pace of arms sales to Iraq may have increased during 2002." The daily added that "a[n unnamed] senior Western official told 'The Guardian': 'Just about every defense company in [Yugoslavia] sold to Iraq via Syria or via a third country.'"

"The Guardian" also noted that unnamed "U.S. diplomats in the Balkans say a string of defense plants in Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro have supplied Baghdad with -- among other weapons -- armor-piercing missiles, rockets, anti-tank ammunition, tank engines, various explosives, chemical stabilizers, and grenade launchers, as well as missile fuel, MiG aircraft engines, spare parts, and expert advice on how to configure air defenses against the U.S."

Possible terrorist links also figure into the equation. The daily quoted the ICG report as saying that the group's findings "show the urgency of Yugoslavia taking steps to stop exports of any kind of arms or technology that could be used in any way for terrorist activities, or that could be used by these countries to manufacture weapons of mass destruction." The paper also quoted Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic as saying that the arms trade is not the government's responsibility.

But there is also a clearly political aspect to the alleged Belgrade-Baghdad ties. "The Guardian" noted that "the ICG investigation also claims that [unnamed] allies of Mr. Kostunica visited Baghdad last year for a conference devoted to attacking U.S. policy in the Balkans and the Middle East. 'The conference resolution unanimously condemned 'American imperialism and hegemony' and everything the U.S. was doing in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq, and had done in Yugoslavia.'"

Western official reaction was not slow in coming. Denis MacShane, who is the British Foreign Office minister with special responsibility for Europe, said on 25 November in London that "international rule of law means no breach of UN sanctions -- such as selling weapons to [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein," the "Financial Times" reported the next day. The paper also noted that the ICG study was "based in part on documents from the U.S. government." The daily added that "Washington's suspicion of illegal Yugoslav arms dealing is at its highest level" since the fall of Milosevic.

For its part, the Yugoslav state-run news agency Tanjug carried a statement by the Foreign Ministry in which the ministry stressed that it is taking tough action against illegal arms sales. Predrag Simic, who is an adviser to Kostunica dealing with foreign affairs, called the media reports on alleged arms sales and Kostunica's knowledge of them "complete nonsense," the "Financial Times" reported.

On 26 November, Kostunica's office, the Yugoslav government, and several individual ministers denied any knowledge of the illicit arms trade with Iraq, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported.

That is, however, unlikely to be the end of the matter. The "Financial Times" noted that "the Yugoslav authorities now face a litany of specific allegations rather than the more abstract charge of arms trading."

It is not clear if and how official Belgrade will respond to the specific charges, including allegations of conflicts of interest on the part of some high-ranking individuals. ICG Balkans Program Director Nicholas Whyte told the BBC that the arms sales continued because those behind them thought they would not be caught. (Patrick Moore)

IS THERE A NEW MACEDONIAN REGIONAL POLICY? At the 21-22 November NATO summit in Prague, President Boris Trajkovski headed the Macedonian delegation, which included the foreign and defense ministers. Within the delegation, there was a clear division of labor between the head of state and the ministers. Trajkovski dealt primarily with public affairs and top-level contacts, promoting his idea that Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia should cooperate during their common NATO accession process. The ministers, for their part, discussed more practical issues with their colleagues.

Trajkovski first presented his initiative about two weeks before the Prague summit when he asked the president of Croatia, Stipe Mesic, and Albania, Alfred Moisiu, for a meeting. At that time, it was already clear that none of the three countries would receive an invitation for NATO membership at the Prague summit(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002).

Trajkovski's proposal was attractive to both Moisiu and Mesic. On 17 November, Moisiu and Trajkovski held two meetings, first on the Macedonian and then on the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid. Mesic did not attend the meetings but supported his colleagues' proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002).

In Prague, the three presidents participated in a panel discussion at RFE/RL, where they outlined their ideas for regional cooperation (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). They also had a short meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, which raised hopes that the three countries may well join NATO in the next round of enlargement.

Meanwhile, it was up to Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski to discuss concrete steps for future trilateral cooperation with his Croatian counterpart, Jozo Rados. Rados accepted Trajkovski's proposal to establish joint regional training centers for special military units.

Some observers have compared Macedonia's trilateral approach to NATO accession with that of the Baltic States. But Macedonia is also looking towards its Balkan neighbors. Buckovski asked Greek Defense Minister Yannos Papantoniou whether Athens and Ankara could support Macedonia on its way to NATO, just as Greece and Turkey successfully supported Bulgaria's and Romania's bids for NATO accession in the so-called 2+2 initiative.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva and her Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, discussed the establishment of a "Euroregion" around Lake Prespa. She asked him for a trilateral meeting involving the Macedonian, Albanian, and Greek governments. Another Euroregion was recently founded by the mayors of Nis in Serbia, the Bulgarian capital Sofia, and Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2002).

Mitreva also raised the issue of the Greek consular service in Macedonia. Macedonians applying for a Greek visa often complain about harsh treatment by Greek consular officers.

In another meeting on the sidelines of the Prague summit, Mitreva urged France to ratify the association agreement between Macedonia and the EU.

Macedonian foreign policy has thus clearly directed its energies toward promoting closer regional cooperation with Albania, Croatia, and Greece. For the Macedonian media, however, still another meeting of regional foreign ministers was more important than the NATO Summit in Prague.

In a ceremony near Gradiste on 24 November, Mitreva, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, and Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Petkov officially began the process of demarcating the border between Yugoslavia and Macedonia. The ministers unveiled a symbolic column marking the point where the three countries' borders come together. After the ceremony, Mitreva and Svilanovic met with their Bulgarian counterpart, Solomon Pasi, in the monastery of St. Joakim Osogovski.

Asked about the objections by Kosovar leaders to the right of Belgrade to determine the border between Kosova and Macedonia, Mitreva noted that "all relevant factors" in the international community recognize the border as agreed between Skopje and Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2001). Svilanovic ruled out any further border changes that would impinge on the sovereignty of the countries involved. He did not rule out minor adjustments on practical grounds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 May 2002), however.

The border demarcation controversy may serve as a first test of the new Macedonian government, which is led by the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI). BDI spokesman Agron Buxhaku said on 25 November that "the demarcation should be halted until Kosova's independence.... This process requires a wider political approach in order to avoid unnecessary tensions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2002)."

Despite this problem, the new government's approach to improving regional cooperation seems better grounded than the previous government's policy of favoring individual neighbors such as Greece or Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 March 2002). It can help contribute to the stabilization of the region as well as to Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIA TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON NATO ENTRY. On 21 November, Slovenia joined six other Central and Eastern European nations when it was invited to begin accession talks at NATO's Prague Summit. Slovenia's invitation was significant because it is the only invitee that had not been part of the USSR or the Warsaw Pact.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld paid a visit to Slovenia on 23 November to offer congratulations on the invitation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002). During his visit, he met with President Milan Kucan, Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek, and Minister of Defense Anton Grizold. Rumsfeld stated that Slovenia could make a valuable contribution to NATO, particularly with experience in mountain combat, peacekeeping, field medicine, and mine clearing.

Despite divisions in public opinion, NATO was not a campaign issue in this year's elections. All of Slovenia's major political parties endorse NATO accession, and both candidates in the 1 December presidential runoff -- Janez Drnovsek and Barbara Brezigar -- favor joining NATO.

Following the Prague invitation, Drnovsek announced that the government will hold a referendum on NATO membership in the first six months of 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). Some in Slovenia have repeatedly pressed for a referendum on the issue. This spring the government rejected a proposal for an early referendum, reiterating Kucan's position that such a vote should take place only after an invitation is issued.

If a referendum on NATO membership is held, the outcome is anyone's guess. The latest public opinion poll, "Delo" reported on 24 November, showed 38 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed. Winning over the remaining 23 percent of undecided voters is one of the government's priorities.

According to "Delo," the undecided mainly comprise the elderly, the less educated, and those under 27. Voters least likely to support NATO membership include those favoring the right-wing Slovenian National Party and Kucan's United List of Social Democrats, which has its roots in the former League of Communists.

Those most inclined toward membership are likely to vote for the conservative New Slovenia party, Drnovsek's Liberal Democracy of Slovenia, or the far-right Social Democratic Party.

However, according to the same poll, only 57 percent of the public favors holding a referendum. For those opposed, the greatest concern appears to be the cost of organizing a referendum. With NATO accession -- and increased defense spending -- viewed as all but inevitable, many are reluctant to see additional funds spent on the matter.

Enthusiasm for military service is also waning. One career officer recounted how a decade ago, in a climate of heightened patriotism, he abruptly left his job to serve in Slovenia's military: "I told my boss I was leaving, and he said, 'Not without three months' notice!' When I told him where I was going, then it wasn't a problem. These days, if you tried that, they'd say: 'What? You're going where? For you, six months' notice!'"

A series of recent events have underscored this public disaffection with the military. In July, 12 conscripts refused to bear arms. In October, 140 conscripts in Maribor went AWOL en masse after weekend leave was cancelled. In a November incident, seven assault rifles were stolen from a facility in Ljubljana guarded by conscripts. (The perpetrator was quickly caught and the weapons recovered.)

In addition, the number of conscientious objectors to obligatory military service -- shortened to seven months as of April -- is relatively high, standing at 114 in 2001. A 22 October article in "Delo" reported a graffito at the barracks in Slovenska Bistrica: "I'm here because I'm young, male, healthy, and stupid." The "stupid" part, says the article, is easily explained: 90 percent of conscientious objection claims are approved.

The sentiment is understandable, the article continues. Conscripts find seven months of their lives taken away for a training period that the military itself acknowledges is inadequately brief. Those affected are impatiently awaiting the end of conscription in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002). I recently asked a group of students at Ljubljana's Faculty of Economics when they would perform their military service. The response, accompanied by laughter, was a unanimous: "Never."

In contrast to the conscripts, the professional element of the Slovenian Armed Forces is generally acknowledged to be well-trained and increasingly participates in international humanitarian and peace support missions. Ironically, some of these missions abroad are relatively "close to home." After returning from a six-month assignment in Kosova, an officer commented on how foreign the province seemed. Although accustomed to trips and vacations in Italy, Austria, and elsewhere, few of the Slovenian contingent had ever ventured beyond the beaches of Istria or Dalmatia within the former Yugoslavia. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "It was a factual difference of opinions which advanced onto a personal level. This is how it happened, I settled it and this, in my opinion, has produced an effect in the U.S. as well." -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on the imbroglio in German-American relations. Quoted by CTK at the Prague NATO summit on 21 November (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002).

American weapons experts are "trying to assess our production, our products, how we sell, and whom we sell to.... We asked the Americans about possibilities for better cooperation between our and their defense industries." -- Radomir Ljujic, general manager of the Sloboda arms factory outside Cacak. Quoted by AP on 21 November.

"The message is that the door of NATO is open for new members. The road to NATO membership is difficult, it's long." -- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones in Tirana on 25 November. Quoted by Reuters (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002).