War in Europe: Milosevic 'arrests dissident generals'

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PRESIDENT Slobodan Milosevic is trying to head off growing internal opposition which Nato believes could lead to a mili- tary coup against him, it was claimed last night.

Tony Blair's official spokesman said the allies had received reports that the Serbian leader had put several senior army generals under house arrest in an attempt to prevent an uprising. Jamie Shea, Nato's spokesman, confirmed that he had heard the same reports about military leaders - said to number "double figures" - being held against their will.

"There are many retired generals in Yugoslavia because Milosevic ... doesn't seem to have much trust in them. I wonder if they have trust in him," said Mr Shea.

Downing Street has intelligence reports suggesting that support is increasing for three former military chiefs who were sacked by Mr Milosevic shortly before the air strikes began. The focus of attention is on General Momcilo Peresic, until recently the head of the army, who was viewed as somebody the West could "do business with" in the past.

Nato hopes that Gen Peresic and his two associates, dismissed at the same time, could gain enough backing among soldiers to mount a coup. According to Downing Street, there are growing signs of disaffection among Serbian troops on the ground, and the allies are in contact with sympathetic Serbs in Belgrade to work out how they could help facilitate an uprising against the Serbian leader. "There are people in his [Mr Milosevic's] ranks who believe that he is losing it, and the feelers are out as to how they might get out themselves once the whole thing goes wrong," Mr Blair's spokesman said yesterday.

The claim is part of a deliberate media strategy to undermine the credibility of President Milosevic, which is aimed at the Serbian people as much as at a British audience. Similar tactics have been used to try and destabilise President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Britain and its Nato allies are also renewing their attempt to get pro- Western propaganda into Serbia. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said Britain was "moving up a gear" its capacity to broadcast in to Serbia, with extra money being allocated for foreign language radio and television services to the region.

The Foreign Office also intends to increase its use of the internet in the propaganda war; 14,000 Serbs accessed the Nato website in the first two weeks of its operation.

Downing Street says that Mr Milosevic is becoming increasingly isolated and now spends most of his time in an underground bunker. Psychologists employed by the Government have monitored his appearance on television to build up a profile of the Serbian leader under pressure and attempt to identify the weak points in his personality.

"He has a history of depression, and is getting less and less trusting of the people around him," the Prime Minister's spokesman said.