War In The Balkans: Army told Milosevic: `You can't surrender'

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OUTRAGE WITHIN the officer corps of Yugoslavia's Third Army at what they regard as a "surrender" to Nato lies behind Serbia's refusal to withdraw from Kosovo and allow heavily armed Nato troops to deploy in the province. They are demanding a United Nations force - with a UN Security Council resolution and blue berets on the heads of its soldiers - before agreeing to pull their troops and equipment out of Kosovo.

But Yugoslav military sources say that Nato is also demanding a series of measures which were never part of the peace accord agreed by President Slobodan Milosevic last Thursday. They include the withdrawal of all Serb reservists in Kosovo between the ages of 18 and 55 - a step which would reduce the indigenous Serb population to tens of thousands of vulnerable old men, women and children.

The Pentagon has already said that it expects many Kosovo Serbs will "want to leave" the province - which army officers here regard as American acquiescence in the "ethnic cleansing" of the minority Serb population.

According to political sources in Belgrade, the Third Army confronted Mr Milosevic with its "deep dissatisfaction" over the peace agreement on Friday - less than 24 hours after he had accepted the EU-Nato-Russian proposals for an end to the alliance bombardment. They argued that a reduced force of Yugoslav troops (rather than a post-withdrawal return of a few military technical personnel) must be maintained in Kosovo - something Nato is unlikely to tolerate - and that a substantial Russian military force must arrive in the province as Nato deploys.

Mr Milosevic is said to have suffered a mild stroke six weeks ago - and to have suffered a recurrence in the third week of May which affected the movement of his left hand. His opponents say the second attack was caused by his shock at the Hague war crimes tribunal indictment against him and against his colleagues.

But despite Nato's fantasies that the Yugoslav President may be overthrown by a popular uprising or coup, Mr Milosevic remains well in control of Serbia. His 130,000-strong police and paramilitary police corps remain loyal to him and the army raised its objections with Mr Milosevic not to weaken him but to bolster its position in the Macedonian talks with Nato and to protect its soldiers in Kosovo.

The Yugoslav delegation at the talks with Nato on Sunday included Colonel General Svetozar Marjanovic, the army deputy chief of staff, and Colonel General Blagoje Kovacevic, both of whom are loyal Milosevic men. The Foreign Ministry's representative at the talks, Nebojsa Vujovic, is a pro-Milosevic Serbian nationalist.

Last night, Goran Matic, minister without portfolio in the Yugoslav government, insisted that the Yugoslav-Nato talks were continuing "in a positive atmosphere" and Yugoslavia expected an agreement soon. It sounded like an attempt to blame Nato for the days of delay in implementing the agreement.

If details emerging here are correct, then the Nato commander General Sir Michael Jackson's argument that the Serbs are prevaricating in order to prevent the return of Kosovo Albanian refugees - while reflecting a real Nato concern - falls several kilometres short of the whole truth. The Yugoslav Third Army, for example, believes with good reason that Nato is providing air cover to Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas and that Nato's demand for an immediate handover of minefield maps would therefore be used by the KLA to attack Yugoslav troops during a withdrawal.

Yugoslav officers point to the KLA attack on a Serb bus last weekend which gravely wounded the driver as evidence of the guerrilla army's intention to attack Serb civilians during and after a Yugoslav army withdrawal. Other than a verbal promise to abide by the military-technical agreement - but not to disarm, as the agreement insists it must do - the KLA has shown no interest in a ceasefire.

That the Yugoslav authorities wished to negotiate with the UN is all too evident in Belgrade where Serbian television has reported that the Macedonia talks are taking place between Yugoslav officers and a UN mission. Third Army officers, however, believe that they should be sitting down with just such a mission rather than a British paratroop general.

"Nato don't want a peace deal - they want to create facts on the ground before there is a UN Security Council resolution," a military source in Belgrade said last night. "Nato want a military victory. In the military- technical agreement produced by Nato, there is not a single mention of the UN." Copies of the EU-Nato-Russian agreement distributed to the Serbian parliament last week specifically stated that the deployment of an international force in Kosovo would be "under UN auspices".

Yugoslav army officers are also upset by Nato's demand for a "zone of mutual security of 25 kilometres" in Serbia. This buffer zone, they suspect, may be patrolled by Nato to ensure the absence of any Yugsolav military forces in the area, allowing Nato soldiers to move close to main Serbian central cities like Nis, Leskovac and Kraljevo and - at one point - less than 100 miles from Belgrade. For a president indicted by the Hague Tribunal, the last geographical statistic is, of course, an important one.

At the closed Nato talks in Macedonia, the Yugoslavs are also believed to have asked for two weeks, rather than the original seven days, to move their supplies, equipment and damaged vehicles over the bombed roads of Kosovo.