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Balkan Report: October 12, 1999

12 October 1999, Volume 3, Number 38

A Fatal--And Fateful--Accident. Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) leader Vuk Draskovic was involved in a road accident near Lazarevac on 3 October that left four of his aides dead. He says that this was really an attempt by the Belgrade regime to kill him. It is not yet clear precisely what the political effect of the resulting imbroglio will be. But AP concluded on 8 October that "the accident has prompted a furious Draskovic to radicalize his so far relatively moderate stance toward [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's regime and pledge to crush it."

Draskovic said in Belgrade on 9 October that he may "take matters into my own hands" if the authorities do not quickly identify and punish those responsible for the accident. He said that the police report on the accident is a cover-up. Police officials claim that Draskovic and his colleagues were driving at 150 km per hour and were therefore at least partially responsible for the deaths. The police have yet to identify the driver or owner of the sand-laden truck that swerved in front of the SPO leader.

The failure of the police in an authoritarian state to clear up such basic questions only increases suspicions that Draskovic is right. His charges seem all the more plausible because of the fact that several once-powerful persons in Serbian politics (and the underworld) have been killed under mysterious circumstances in recent years--but without the crime ever having been solved. Indeed, Bosnian Serbs sometimes joke that Radovan Karadzic or General Ratko Mladic might "have a car accident" if either ever tried to plea-bargain and appear before the Hague court.

Were someone in the regime to kill a war criminal who threatened to spill the beans, their motive would be clear. But it is less certain why anyone would want to murder Draskovic. Until 3 October, he seemed to serve Milosevic's interests by urging political compromise and refusing to throw the weight of the largest single opposition party behind the patently anti-Milosevic Alliance for Change. As long as Vuk was alive and amenable to compromise, the regime could be sure that the opposition would remain divided.

Might someone have been trying to intimidate Draskovic and warn him not to draw too close to the rest of the opposition? If so, they know precious little about his character and temperament. And in any event, persistent but unconfirmed reports suggest that the secret police have enough compromising information on the corruption of the SPO-run administration in Belgrade to pressure Vuk if they ever wanted to do so.

If Draskovic were killed, however, the opposition would have a martyr. The SPO, moreover, would get a new leader, who might be less feisty and mercurial, and more ready to compromise with the rest of the opposition. In short, there seems to be no apparent, logical reason for the regime to want Draskovic dead.

Instead, what the regime has gotten is a furious SPO. As one of its leaders said recently: "If they want a war, they will have one. ...There will be no more 'velvet' demonstrations. We'll have protests until the ultimate fall of the unscrupulous killers," London's "The Independent" reported.

Which leads to the question: was the attempt on Vuk's life simply an act of gross stupidity by unnamed security officials? Or is there something more to the story? (Patrick Moore)

Perisic: Army Will Not Act Against Opposition. Momcilo Perisic told a television station in Uzice that the army will not intervene against Milosevic's domestic political enemies, "Vesti" reported on 8 October. The former head of the General Staff and current opposition politician stressed that pro-Milosevic commanders such as Generals Dragoljub Ojdanic and Nebojsa Pavkovic act only as government spokesmen when they threaten the opposition with military intervention.

Perisic found it ironic that the regime praises the military as "heroic" and "victorious" but cannot find the money to pay it. He argued that Milosevic's relations with the military have always been poor and that the regime will not succeed if it thinks it can "buy off the army of the people" by winning over a few top officers.

The Milosevic regime and it alone is responsible for Serbia's finding itself "at a dead-end," Perisic stressed. He warned, however, that "one must remember that the Serbian people have never in their history accepted any leader imposed from abroad. They only accept someone from the ranks of their own people." (He was probably referring primarily to the native Karadjordjevic and Obrenovic dynasties in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when most other Balkan peoples had foreign-appointed rulers of German origin.)

Perisic founded his Movement for a Democratic Serbia in August with the aim of ousting Milosevic and promoting democratic change (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 August 1999). He has carefully avoided linking himself politically with most other opposition leaders. He has also shunned the foreign tourism dear to Zoran Djindjic and many other politicians.

The former general is not, however, without controversy. Many Bosnians regard him as a war criminal for his role in the shelling of Mostar in the 1992-1995 war. A Croatian court has sentenced him to 20 years in prison in conjunction with the shelling of Zadar during the 1991 conflict. One Croatian journalist said to "Balkan Report": "Can't the Serbs come up with leaders who aren't war criminals?" (Patrick Moore)

Belgrade To Discuss Podgorica's Proposals? Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia is willing to "resume talks" on 26 October with Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) on Montenegrin proposals for redefining the legal basis of the relationship between the two republics. A DPS spokesman said that his party supports such talks but insists that they take place between representatives of Serbia and Montenegro and not of the two parties, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 7 October. The last bilateral talks took place in July. (Patrick Moore)

Or Might It Seek A 'Chechen Model'? At a time when it seems increasingly likely that Moscow may be seeking to partition Chechnya, it might be noted that Milosevic may be tempted to use that same tactic in dealing with Montenegro (albeit without the bombing campaigns). Many of the 40 percent or so of Montenegrins who favor continuing union with Serbia live in the highland and northern regions of their republic. This summer, some of the traditional clan associations held gatherings at which speakers slammed President Milo Djukanovic and his supporters.

Should Milosevic force Djukanovic into declaring independence, might not local leaders in some parts of Montenegro announce that they intend to "remain in Yugoslavia" and appeal for Serbian military support? That is precisely what happened in Krajina in 1991 and in Bosnia in 1992. Those decisions, moreover, were carefully planned in Belgrade, which ensured in advance that its supporters were well armed. Milosevic, however, later abandoned his backers in Krajina and Bosnia (and Kosova) when he judged it in his interest to do so. Might a similar fate await his loyalists in the Montenegrin highlands? (Patrick Moore)

Macedonian Court Cuts 'Terrorism' Sentences. An appeals court in Kicevo on 7 October reduced the sentences of nine ethnic Albanians who were serving prison terms for a series of bomb attacks. The bombings had been directed against police stations, barracks, court houses, and railroad installations between November 1997 and July 1998, AP reported. A lower court previously convicted the nine on charges of terrorism and conspiring to act against the state and sentenced them to a total of 23 years. The appeals court reduced the sentences to a combined 14 years. In 1998, police arrested a total of 20 ethnic Albanians in connection with the bombings but released 11 of them for lack of evidence. In one of the police raids, an ethnic Albanian was killed. (Fabian Schmidt)

No Extradition For 'Babo.' The Croatian Supreme Court has ruled that Fikret Abdic, the controversial former kingpin of Bosnia's Bihac pocket, cannot be extradited to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Muslim authorities want to try him for war crimes. Abdic can only be legally extradited to The Hague, but the war crimes court there has not indicted him. The ethnic Muslim Abdic is protected from extradition to Bosnia by his Croatian citizenship, but it is not clear how he acquired it, "Jutarnji list" wrote on 8 October.

Abdic's foes regard him as a long-time crook who worked with all sides during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war for the sake of his own business interests. His supporters consider him the benefactor and protector of the Bihac pocket and have dubbed him "Babo," or daddy. He is a bitter enemy and rival of Alija Izetbegovic. (Patrick Moore)

Hope Springs Eternal. Mustafa Ceric--who is the reisu-l-ulema or head of the Islamic Community in Bosnia--said that he thinks that a time will come when the Serbian authorities in Banja Luka will ask the Muslims to rebuild the 16th-century Ferhadija mosque. Serbian forces destroyed the UNESCO-registered building during the war as part of their effort to remove all traces of Bosnia's Ottoman heritage. The Serbs bulldozed the rubble and turned the area into a parking lot. The local Serbian authorities have repeatedly refused to allow the Muslims to rebuild the structure.

"Oslobodjenje" last week quoted Ceric as saying that it is in the Serbs' interest to rebuild the mosque of their own volition and not under pressure of the international community. He added that he hopes that the Serbian Orthodox Church in particular will take a more active role in encouraging Serbian authorities to rebuild this and other mosques. Ceric noted the role played by his Islamic Community and local Muslim authorities in rebuilding Metropolitan Nikolaj's church in Sarajevo. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "The Partisans will apologize for Bleiburg when the Ustashe do the same for Jasenovac." -- headline in "Novi List" on 7 October, reporting on a meeting of the Presidency of the League of Anti-Fascist Fighters of Croatia.

"When someone sees they are losing, they are ready for anything." -- Milosevic's spokesman Ivica Dacic, quoted by Reuters on 7 October. He was referring to the Serbian opposition.

Deja-Vu All Over Again. The following quotations are from various U.S. newspapers over the past three weeks and refer to East Timor:

"First they looted and then they burned. It was deliberate, it was orchestrated." -- Australian peacekeeper.

"There are perhaps 300,000 frightened people still in the hills. They have food for maybe two more weeks." -- Timorese independence supporter.

"I have stopped Balkanization." -- Indonesian President B. J. Habibie.