Yugoslav Army Shifts Tack in Bosnia
Some worry that promised withdrawal masks a new phase in a Serbian land grab
BELGRADE — SERBIA'S merger with Montenegro in a new rump Yugoslavia is being dismissed by some Western diplomats and analysts as merely another ploy to cover up its plan to annex areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina now being overrun by Serbian forces.
"The declaration of a new Yugoslavia was a highly token move. It is only to confuse the rest of the world. The real question is the situation of the Yugoslav Army in Bosnia-Herzegovina," said Milos Vasic, military affairs writer for Vreme magazine.
The proclamation Monday of the new federation by Serbia's ruling Communists and their Montenegrin prots was quickly followed by an announcement that Serbian generals were ordered to prepare a plan for an Army withdrawal from Bosnia.
Fears about the real aim of the move, however, were raised by the announcement's revelation that 80 percent of the almost exclusively Serbian troops now in Bosnia-Herzegovina are natives of the republic.
The implication, analysts said, is that only 20 percent of the estimated 100,000 soldiers would be withdrawn to Serbia and Mon tenegro. The remainder, they said, will likely retain their weapons, adopt the uniforms of Serbia's irregular proxy forces, and press on with seizing territory that Serbs demand be merged with the new rump federation.
"The greatest danger will be if they change uniforms and join the Serbian territorials," said Ejup Ganic, a member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's presidency of Muslims, Slavs, and Croats. The government of President Alija Izetbegovic would insist that the European Community or some kind of "international commission" monitor any troop withdrawal as well as the disposition of the Army's considerable hardware, he said.
"The Serbs are always full of fine words. But what really matters now is the Yugoslav Army in Bosnia-Herzegovina. That's the one to watch," said a Western diplomat. "If it becomes the Bosnian-Serb territorial defense, then I don't know what the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be."
"The new federation can simply say that it pulled out its bits. The fact that three-quarters of the Army will remain won't make a difference to them."
Mr. Vasic said he is already certain of the Yugoslav Army's intentions.
"In Serbian territories, the Army will transform itself into the Serbian Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina," said Vasic.
"The object is to ex-territorialize parts of Bosnia and then sit down and wait for some kind of interim international solution. In the meantime, they will clean areas of Muslim Slavs, and Croats so that one day Serbs can vote to join the new Yugoslavia," he said. "Some sort of annexation is on the schedule."
Serbia's use of proxies to realize its territorial aspirations has a long history, most notably the assassination in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Bosnian Serb under the direction of Serbian militarists seeking to end Austro-Hungarian rule of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The slaying ignited World War I.
Serbia and the Yugoslav Army most recently armed and backed minority Serbian rebels and Serbia-based paramilitary groups in the conquest of 35 percent of Croatia, and have used the same strategy to seize an estimated 40 percent of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the three weeks since it won international recognition of its independence.
A United Nations peacekeeping operation has put an end to the territorial seizures in Croatia.
Concerns have has been further fueled by the failure of the Serbia-Montenegro union to explicitly recognize the territorial integrity of the former Yugoslav republics.
Furthermore, acting Yugoslav Defense Minister Blagoje Adzic, a Herzegovinian Serb who holds the Army's highest generalship, said in a letter yesterday to President Izetbegovic that there would be no troop withdrawal without the agreement of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serbian minority.
In forging the rump Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro laid claim to the international status and recognition of its defunct namesake with the aim of inheriting its membership in the UN and other world organizations.
The United States, 11 of the 12 EC nations, Australia, Canada, and Japan are among the countries withholding recognition of the new entity as the legitimate successor of former Yugoslavia.
Countries that have signaled their acceptance of the Serbia-Montenegro union as the legal heir include Russia and China.
With such powerful backing, Western diplomats said, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia is banking that he can avoid the political and economic sanctions that Washington and its allies have warned they would seek to turn Serbia into a "pariah state."
Mr. Ganic expressed fears that America and Western Europe would indeed be unwilling to support their tough talk by fighting for effective international punitive measures, thereby allowing the Serbian offensive in Bosnia-Herzegovina to roll on.
"I'm so disappointed with the Western states. They have done little to back up their words," he said. "There will be no change in Milosevic's tactics."