Serb military surrenders to troop protest

A THOUSAND army reservists demanding back pay in the deepest Serb provinces does not sound like a recipe for making the regime of Slobo- dan Milosevic quake in its collective boots.

None the less, a crowd of angry soldiers in the southern Serbian town of Vranje hasforced the Yugoslav army into an embarrassing surrender. The commander of the Third Army, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, promised reservists this week that they will be paid within a fortnight. "He promised, but we don't believe him," said one soldier who took part in the protests.

In recent days, demobilised soldiers have protested outside the town hall. When the army refused to take their demands seriously, they blocked the motorway. At which point General Pavkovic suddenly appeared and showered them with promises of full pay.

Soldiers in other towns now seem likely to pick up on the example of Vranje. Given that the state coffers are empty, it is difficult to imagine that all the promises can be fulfilled.

The south has traditionally been a Milosevic stronghold. But a disproportionate number of those called up to fight in Kosovo came from the region. Trees, walls and lampposts in the centre of Vranje have death notices pinned to them.

The cheerful faces of now-dead young men - boys, sometimes still in their teens - gaze out at passers-by. This is a small place, where everybody knows everybody. If you walk through Vranje with a local, the conversation is peppered with "That was my friend", or "He went to my sister's school", as you pass the death notices. For Vranje and other towns in this area, the cost of the Kosovo war has been all too real.

There is anger that these young men died; anger that the survivors have not been paid; and anger that they fought in vain. Although Serb television news cannot admit it, Serbs perceive Kosovo as lost.

The regime stands accused of having made an arrangement to save its own skin. One of the most popular slogans of the demonstrators in Vranje was:"Why did you sell Kosovo?"

General Pavkovic acknowledged what the government still refuses to admit: that the Kosovo settlement was a bitter defeat. He described how the Serbs were forced to agree to Nato's demands.

"They said: `You take it or leave it. If you leave it, we'll start to bomb you, city by city.'" He complained that the Russians ("our friends") sent the same message, leaving the Serbs isolated. "The Russians didn't help us at all. They said: `Take it or leave it.' We had to accept this agreement." He added: "We know very well who sold Kosovo, and how it was sold."

The demonstrations here have not been directly political. The demand for money took precedence over the demand for the resignation of President Milosevic. But the two subjects are linked in people's minds.

Mr Milosevic is blamed for what has gone wrong. In the words of one young demobilised soldier in a cafe on Vranje's main street: "He sold the Serb Krajina [in Croatia], he sold Bosnia, now he has sold Kosovo. He has ruined the state." Vukasin Obradovic, editor of Vranjske Novine, believes more Serbs are aware of the reality of Kosovo than they care to admit. "Most Serbs know what happened in Kosovo before Nato came," he said. "They know what crimes were committed, because the people who come here from Kosovo - army and refugees - say what happened."

In Leskovac, up the road from Vranje, locals demonstrate daily to demand the release from jail of the television technician who, by illegally broadcasting an appeal on TV, triggered the biggest demonstration that Serbia has yet seen.

The demands of the crowds in Leskovac include the release of the technician and the sacking of Mr Milosevic's local henchman; only in third place comes the demand for the resignation of Mr Milosevic himself.

Unorganised demonstrations have proved more successful than protests organised by Serbia's political parties. The opposition Democratic Party, led by Zoran Djindjic, scheduled a protest for last night in the industrial town of Kragujevac.

Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, will hold a rally in the town tomorrow night. But for the Miloseviv regime, the angry reservists of Vranje are a much more worrying prospect than opposition politicians from Belgrade who spend their time trying to strangle each other.

If the army does not pay up in the weeks to come, the problems of popular anger will only get worse - even if the opposition leaders sit on their hands at home.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us