Rumors about CIA and Nato plots put Serbs on edgeBy Edward Cody
Paris, Wednesday, February 16, 2000
BELGRADE - Secretaries here show up at work convinced that NATO bombs will start to fall on the city again within hours - their boyfriends tell them so.
Yugoslav government officials ask whether another round of NATO air strikes would be good for Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign.
And Yugoslav generals report that Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas increasingly slip into Serbia, seeking to provoke a reaction from the Yugoslav Army, which in turn might drag in U.S. soldiers just across the border in Kosovo.
And who knows where things would go from there?
Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and of the Yugoslav Federation, buzzes these days with questions about what further steps the United States and its NATO allies would take - or would be willing to take - to promote the overthrow of President Slobodan Milosevic and his replacement by a government more to their liking.
Moving around in Belgrade and talking with its residents, it is not hard to understand why these questions and rumors exist.
The scars in the city of the bombs and million-dollar missiles provide visible reminders of what the United States and its friends were prepared to do to get their way.
Turn a corner in the center of the city and parts of the Interior Ministry lie in dusty ruins.
Cross the Sava River to the New Belgrade neighborhood and the Chinese Embassy, blasted by U.S. missiles, is a pile of rubble.
Rumors say unexploded ordnance under the debris prevents clearing of the site and rebuilding of the embassy.
Chinese diplomats, relocated to a villa on the other side of town, are unavailable to explain.
The Yugoslav government also does its part in creating the uncertainty.
When Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic was murdered at a table in his cousin's restaurant here on Feb. 7, Information Minister Goran Matic immediately suggested that foreign intelligence services were behind the killing.
Vojislav Seselj, leader of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party and Mr. Milosevic's coalition partner in Parliament, was more specific: He said that U.S., French or British spy agencies did it.
Authorities already had announced formal charges against members of two groups, Spider and the Serbia Liberation Army, accused of conspiring to carry out sabotage and assassinate President Milosevic as well as opposition leaders.
Both were linked in public accusations to NATO-member intelligence agencies - Spider directly to the French spy agency, the General Directorate of External Security.
Aside from such public-opinion shaping, government officials quietly and seriously discuss what the CIA might be up to in an effort to further the Clinton administration's goal of removing Mr. Milosevic from power. They wonder, for instance, if the agency might be dropping counterfeit Yugoslav dinars from aircraft to create further turmoil in the country's weakened economy. They ask whether operatives are wooing Milosevic aides or army generals to plot a coup.
They speculate that the CIA might be egging on Montenegro's independence-minded leadership to precipitate a civil war, which would shear off Serbia's last partner in the Yugoslav Federation, perhaps result in U.S. intervention and thus push the Milosevic problem into a bloody finale.
Nebojsa Vujovic, the Yugoslav deputy foreign minister, told reporters who asked him about the speculation about Montenegro that a renewal of U.S. bombing in such circumstances would be "a veritable adventure, regardless of the excuses."
One reason such questioning circulates so readily is that solid information is hard to come by in Belgrade. Mr. Milosevic and his close aides, particularly his wife, Mirjana Markovic, operate in a tight circle. The Bulatovic assassination - the killer has not yet been found - is expected to tighten the circle further, making hard information even scarcer.
"I told a colleague the other day that if the CIA came and offered me a million dollars for information, I would have to say 'no' because I don't have any idea what's going on," a government official said.