Serbian President Curbing Radicals To Curry West's Favor

SERBIA's President Slobodan Milosevic appears poised to move against Serb nationalists threatening to undermine his efforts to get UN sanctions lifted, Western diplomats say.

Extremist opposition leaders and radical members of the ruling Socialist Party (SPS) are Mr. Milosevic's likely targets because they oppose making concessions to the United Nations in exchange for a gradual lifting of the embargo.

Milosevic's influential wife, Mirjana Markovic, a prominent member of rump Yugoslavia's tiny but influential League of Communists, has served notice of a possible crackdown on her husband's opponents. She has hinted strongly that Serb ``war criminals'' may soon be brought to justice and lambasted the right-wing faction of the SPS.

``There are distinct signs that Milosevic is planning to sweep the nationalists aside to prepare the ground for delivering more concessions which the international community will inevitably demand,'' one Western diplomat says.

The Serbian leader has already come under attack for his blockade of the Bosnian Serbs and permitting international monitors to verify it - a precondition for the UN decision to ease the embargo, which it did last on Oct 5.

Ms. Markovic's castigation of Serb nationalists coincided with the imprisonment on Sept. 29 of Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the neo-fascist Serbian Radical Party, suspected of committing war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia. A fanatical advocate of a ``Greater Serbia,'' Mr. Seselj has spearheaded nationalist opposition to the blockade of the Bosnian Serbs, accusing Milosevic of betraying his former clients.

Writing in the current biweekly magazine Duga, Mrs. Markovic, whose column tends to forecast her husband's next moves, launched an assault on Bosnian Serb extremists and their supporters in Serbia. ``This is the first time they [the Serbs] are doing evil deeds en masse, publicly and with impunity. Therefore I hope the criminals will be held responsible, not in the distant future, but now, while they are still alive,'' she said.

To date, only a handful of Serbs have been brought to justice for committing atrocities, mostly because they have enjoyed the protection of the authorities who, in many cases, ordered them to perpetrate the crimes. But many in Belgrade speculate Milosevic may seek exoneration for his part in the conflict by prosecuting the likes of Seselj or handing them over to the War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands.

Prior to his arrest, Seselj said Milosevic would not dare extradite him to the court set up by the UN. ``Milosevic would be happiest if he could keep me ... here so he can be sure I will not be able to say everything I plan to say in my defense,'' he said.

Milosevic has also moved to purge Army generals who are still putting up a fight against the blockade on Bosnia. Yugoslav Army Commander Moncilo Perisic, who was held responsible for the ruthless bombardment of Mostar during the Bosnian war, reportedly tendered his resignation last Wednesday over Milosevic's attempts to undermine the Army. And three Yugoslav Army generals were ``retired'' last Wednesday.

Meanwhile, radical members of the SPS are coming under pressure to adopt a more moderate stance. Mirjana Markovic assailed in her column leading party ideologue Mihailo Markovic, one of the main advocates of a Greater Serbia. Sources close to the SPS say there is an attempt to marginalize nationalists in the party and bolster the leftist faction that supports Milosevic's peace platform. But they also say political purges are unlikely as the nationalists are expected to back the Socialists' new direction to save their privileged positions.

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