CEOL - Milosevic makes sudden changes in army

BELGRADE, Dec 29, 1999 -- (Reuters) Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic made a sudden series of changes in the army on Tuesday, promoting some commanders and dismissing others.

"The Yugoslav President and Supreme Commander Slobodan Milosevic issued decrees on the promotion, assignment to new posts and cessation of professional service of a certain number of Yugoslav army chiefs," the state news agency Tanjug said, quoting Milosevic's military cabinet.

It went on to list senior officers who had been promoted but did not identify who, or how many, had been sacked.

One of the most significant promotions went to Vladimir Lazarevic, who Tanjug said rose from the post of commander of the army's Pristina Corps - based in Kosovo until it was forced to withdraw in June - to deputy head of the broader Third Army.

On Monday, Lazarevic was one of several senior officials quoted as saying Serb forces would soon return to Kosovo and NATO-led peacekeepers might be forced out in June, part of an apparent new campaign by Belgrade to garner popular support.

NATO Sources Reject Idea Of Serb Forces Returning

NATO sources say there is no chance of Serb forces returning to the province after the widespread atrocities committed against the province's majority ethnic Albanian population and local analysts see the statements as political posturing.

But they share an underlying concern that Milosevic may strike out, either against Kosovo or Montenegro, Serbia's smaller partner in the Yugoslav Federation, if public dissatisfaction grows and he finds himself completely cornered.

Milorad Obradovic, commander of the Second Army, which covers Montenegro, was given a higher rank in the same job as was Geza Farkass, security chief of the general headquarters.

Earlier this month the army saw off police from the pro-Western and independence-minded republic - the only one not to have split with Serbia - in a tense standoff over control of its main airport.

Timing Of Promotions A Surprise

Bratislav Grubacic, a leading political analyst and editor of the Belgrade newsletter VIP, said the promotions were logical but that the timing came as a surprise.

He said the names of those who lost their jobs might indicate the extent of dissatisfaction within the military, whose facilities were badly hit in almost three months of NATO air strikes that ended with a humiliating withdrawal from Kosovo.

"I would be very interested to see the list of those dismissed," he said.

Grubacic said that despite the army's humiliating withdrawal from Kosovo most of the top commanders were loyal to Milosevic, who he said made sure they were well looked after.

"On the lower levels it's difficult to judge. There is a lot of dissatisfaction among the lower ranks but not yet to the extent that the army might turn against the regime."

The government has set aside more than 70 percent of next year's budget to rebuild military infrastructure and replace equipment damaged in the air strikes as well as making sure officers feel properly rewarded in an inflationary environment.

"Decorations are a sort of pay-off," he said. "They give people the feeling that everything's comfortable in the army."

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