BELGRADE — SERBIA'S President Slobodan Milosevic is gaining ground in getting the international community to ease sanctions on his country, but he may be facing difficulty at home from those critical of his blockade of the Bosnian Serbs.
Most of the criticism is coming from the Yugoslav Army. Serbian analysts say Mr. Milosevic is now trying to undermine Army officers critical of the blockade with hefty cuts in defense spending, while at the same time pumping money into his intensely loyal and rapidly expanding police force, whose funding outstripped the defense budget by more than 50 percent this year.
With a feckless opposition and a population propagandized by state-controlled television, only the Army can conceivably challenge Milosevic. Over the years, he has repeatedly purged dissenting generals - both die-hard Communists and extreme nationalists - and squeezed the defense budget to diminish the military's influence.
While most of the current Army power-brokers are said to support him, influential officers are known to be increasingly critical of his arms and fuel blockade of the Bosnian Serbs, imposed to pressure them into reconsidering the latest international peace plan.
Many officers fought alongside and commanded their kin across the Drina River. They now sympathize with them and could theoretically transfer their grievances into political action, according to Serbian political analysts.
``The officers have yet to publicly express opposition to the blockade, but Milosevic knows they're unhappy about it,'' says a Serbian political analyst with close ties to the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia.
By bleeding the Army of funds, the analyst says, Milosevic is aiming to enfeeble and demoralize dissident officers in the hope of neutralizing them politically. The simultaneous expansion of the police force is viewed as a means of guarding against military insubordination.
In the past few years, the police have taken on the appearance of a paramilitary organization, well equipped and highly motivated. This year, Milosevic established a police academy for training top policemen, which is similar to the system previously used for the Yugoslav Army. The force has effectively become his private army to strengthen his iron grip on the country.
Milosevic's defense cuts have severely weakened the military's effectiveness and morale. In an unprecedented plea for funds, a recent issue of the official Yugoslav Army weekly Vojska claimed the defense forces were in the grip of a financial crisis, barely able to pay servicemen's salaries last month.
The article said that the Army was being weakened by a brain drain of underpaid officers and a glut of outdated, poorly maintained weaponry. ``In Europe, only Albania is lower than us in terms of military spending.''
Miroslav Lazanski, military-defense commentator for state-controlled newspapers, says, ``The military for the first time in third Yugoslavia [the federation of Serbia and Montenegro] has openly warned the state leadership that the financing of the Army has reached a critical point.''
The funding crisis has resulted in acute shortages of spare parts, falling professional standards, and plummeting morale - with hundreds of top technicians and pilots leaving the forces because of deteriorating conditions, Mr. Lazanski adds.
Transport and combat helicopter crews are flying for Norwegian and Danish North Sea oil-exploration companies. Top MIG pilots have been employed by wealthy Texas ranchers.
The Army is so broke that it can barely afford the few armored vehicles produced at Krusevac, one of the country's main munitions plants. The Air Force, meanwhile, is flying outdated MIG-21s and helicopters that should have been scrapped years ago.
The military's warning, Lazanski says, should not be viewed as a threat, but a reflection of seething dissatisfaction with its status and treatment, particularly among the officer class.