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Yugoslav Army Brass Challenges Milosevic

Serbian president calls probe of top general to placate hard-liners angered by his decision to back UN peace plan

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Markovic says Seselj has not decided to withdraw the support his party provides to minority SPS governments at the Yugoslav federal and Serbian Republic levels. "But this might be a matter for the future. Mr. Milosevic and the socialists are not in such a stable situation now after accepting the Vance-Owen plan as they were before," he says.

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Some analysts warned against accepting that contention.

They believe the conflict within the military is a consequence of natural rivalries between ambitious commanders seeking to move up in an Army still beset by turmoil from the collapse of former Yugoslavia.

Milosevic, these analysts say, is allowing the contest to rage to enhance the impression that he is under threat so that the international community does not press him to move too fast in coercing the Bosnian Serbs to end the war.

"I don't think we should go for the bait," a Western diplomat warns. "It would be better to let this play out so we could see who we are dealing with instead of this facade." Most observers speculate that senior generals, led by Gen. Bozidar Stefanovic, the airforce chief and a known nationalist, want to replace Panic with one of their own to force Milosevic to curtail his new policy.

ANALYSTS cite the chain of events that preceded the announcement of the investigation of Panic. Immediately after Milosevic endorsed the peace plan, two hard-line generals were forced to retire, including Gen. Nedeljko Boskovic, who headed military counter-intelligence, which is widely regarded as the coordinating center for aid to the Bosnian Serbs.

Seselj denounced the dismissals, saying they were ordered by the regime because General Boskovic was his prime source for confidential information inside the Army. Boskovic later said he had "no personal connections" with Seselj.

In an apparent counter-strike, Boskovic, General Stefanovic, and Branko Kostic, a former Yugoslav vice president who opposes the peace plan, were accused in a court suit of misusing their power, revealing military secrets, theft, and other charges.

The suit was filed by a group of senior military officers who were recently exonerated of espionage, sedition, and other charges in a case widely seen as a bid by Boskovic and Stefanovic to take unrivaled control of all military intelligence operations. That suit was quickly followed by Seselj's charges against Panic.

The Army general staff then issued a denial of the allegations in which it confirmed that Boskovic had been Seselj's mole and accused the radical leader of seeking to topple the leadership of the Army and the state.

The most probable outcome will be a stalemate, analysts say, now that the international community appears to be backing away from the Vance-Owen plan. Milosevic will almost certainly oust Panic to placate the hard-liners, they say.

"The top generals ... can threaten, but they can't do anything more in terms of endangering Milosevic," says Mr. Vasevic, the radio reporter. "The only force that could do that is the police, and they are with Milosevic."