THE Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army has reaffirmed its commitment to the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Croatia, easing fears of a coup by Serbian nationalist opponents of the plan to end the civil war.
"I think things ... are stabilizing around the position to go forward with the UN solution," says Vasil Tupurkovski, who formerly represented the republic of Macedonia on the eight-member collective presidency.
The plan crafted by UN special envoy Cyrus Vance "is something that the Army stands behind now," says Mr. Tupurkovski, currently chief foreign-policy advisor to the republic's president. "We are advising Vance to come back immediately and reestablish contact with the Army."
The military's reaffirmation of support for Mr. Vance's plan was especially significant as it came from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Blagoje Adzic, a reputed Serb hard-liner named acting defense minister after the Wednesday resignation of Gen. Velko Kadijevic. Army supports cease-fire
General Kadijevic had joined communist Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and secessionist Croatian President Franjo Tudjman two weeks ago in agreeing to the Vance plan, and the three signed a Jan. 2 cease-fire that remains the key condition for deployment of UN forces.
The Army will "respect all international obligations which in its name were undertaken ... by General Kadijevic," said General Adzic in a statement issued over the weekend.
"The Army leadership, as it has until now, will devote maximum efforts to preserving the achieved cease-fire, strengthening the truce, and creating conditions for the arrival, as soon as possible, of United Nations peace-keeping forces in crisis areas in Croatia," he said.
"The Army leadership fully advocates peace," said Adzic, whose statement contrasted sharply with a vow he made last July to use "terrible destructive forces" against secessionist republics.
While Kadijevic claimed health reasons for resigning, Western diplomats are convinced his departure was forced by the Jan. 7 downing of an European Community truce-monitoring mission helicopter over Croatia that killed five EC observers.
"The helicopter downing was not the responsibility of pilots acting alone," a Western diplomat says. "The purpose was to sabotage the Vance plan and possibly touch off something in the Army."
Concerns that the incident signalled a takeover by Serbian nationalist generals were also fueled by the suspension of the Yugoslav Air Force chief, Gen. Zvonko Jurjevic, a Croat who, like Kadijevic, was viewed as an old-guard loyalist of the multi-ethnic Yugoslav idea. Complicated deployment
Despite Adzic's assurances, Western diplomats cautioned against too much early optimism, saying he must still deal with Serbian commanders opposed to the Vance plan.
The proposal calls for a total withdrawal of the Serb-dominated Army from Croatia as 10,000 UN troops and police are deployed in three ethnically mixed war-ravaged regions that would be dubbed "UN Protected Areas." The areas would be completely demilitarized and their ethnic militias disarmed.
An advance contingent of 50 UN military liason officers is due to arrive in Yugoslavia tomorrow, a day before the 12-nation EC is to announce whether or not it will recognize the independence of Croatia and other secession-minded republics.
Adzic's statement appeared to represent a blow to the self-proclaimed "Republic of Serbian Krajina" declared Dec. 19 on half of Croatia's territory by rebel leaders of its 580,000-strong Serbian minority.
The Krajina leadership, based in the western Croatian town of Knin, remains opposed to the Vance plan because it would maintain their region as part of Croatia, thereby annulling territorial gains made by the Army and Serbian rebels.
Their stand has ignited a dispute with Mr. Milosevic, who has threatened to withdraw Serbia's crucial economic and political support for their insurrection and demanded they be replaced by backers of the Vance proposal.
Western diplomats said the outcome of the dispute between Milian Babic, a dentist-turned-Krajina "president," and his erstwhile main patron could depend on the alignment of local forces.
"Without the Yugoslav Army, Mr. Babic is just a dentist," said a Western diplomat. Babic claims the loyalty of local federal troops, the vast majority of whom are natives of the Krajina, and says he has enough arms to continue fighting for years.
Babic has been working closely with two key generals who have voiced objections to the Vance plan. Two weeks ago, one of his allies, Gen. Vladimir Vukovic, was transferred from Knin to head the Army corps in Banja Luka, the commmand center for the Army's operations in central Croatia. The second general, Gen. Ratko Mladic, remains in charge of the Knin Corps, which oversees operations in western Croatia.
The two commanders are among those Adzic will have to bring into line for the UN plan to succeed, Western diplomats said.