Serb troops deserting in droves, claims Nato

NATO SAID it detected growing signs that support in Serbia for the Milosevic regime was cracking, as anti-war protests gripped provincial towns and soldiers were said to be deserting in droves.

The alliance said about 1,000 Serb soldiers from Krusevac, in central Serbia, deserted their unit in Istok, northern Kosovo, earlier this week after hearing reports that riot police had attacked anti-war demonstrations which have been going on for three days in the town. The soldiers reportedly shot their way through a police checkpoint on the main road from Kosovo to Nis in Serbia.

News of the demonstrations in Krusevac on Monday and Tuesday and in nearby Alexandrovac, first surfaced in reports by the opposition Democratic Party but have now been confirmed by the Yugoslav army in Krusevac.

In a statement broadcast on local television, the army admitted demonstrations "of a destructive character" had taken place and warned participants that such protests "amount to collaboration with the enemy". It also warned locals that unauthorised gatherings "or behaviour such as spreading rumours or false information, will be dealt with according to the law prevailing in a time of war".

During the 1991-95 wars in Bosnia and Croatia the Yugoslav army faced similar protests against mobilisation. They reflected a common feeling among Serbs that while "someone" ought to go and fight the Bosnians and Croats, few parents wanted to send their own sons. Then, as now, mobilisation was often concentrated in the provinces rather Belgrade, reducing the risk of riots in the capital but fuelling unrest in the countryside.

The demonstrations in Krusevac were apparently started by mothers of conscript soldiers demanding the return of their sons from Kosovo. They are reported to have waved placards saying they wanted "sons not coffins" and thrown eggs at the town hall.

The protests are thought to have started following the return to the town of the bodies of seven dead soldiers and involved some 4,000 people at their height on Monday.

In Alexandrovac, where the bodies of three dead servicemen were returned, a protest by about 1,000 people took place. State television in Montenegro, which is part of Yugoslavia but whose government is hostile to Slobodan Milosevic, claimed the mayor was "lynched" when he refused to stop conscripts being bused to the front line in Kosovo.

Mr Milosevic's vast and well-armed paramilitary police force could easily crush the anti-war protests, even if they spread to other towns. The Yugoslav President may even use them, if he decides the time is right for a compromise settlement with Nato.

At that juncture, popular opposition to the war may enable him to sell a peace deal to the Serbian nation that safeguards his own hold on power.

Julian Manyon is ITN's special correspondent in Yugoslavia

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

MBDA UK Ltd: Electronic Sub-System Design Verification engineer

Flexible working, annual bonus, pension & more.: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the oppor...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Architect

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? MBDA has e...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Design Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor