War in the Balkans: Dissent - Army warns protesters of crackdown

THE YUGOSLAV army banned anti-war demonstrations yesterday and warned deserters to return to their units or face courts martial.

For several days, crowds of about 2,000 have been gathering in Krusevac, in central Serbia, protesting against the mobilisation of their sons for battle against the Kosovars. Similar demonstrations have been held in Leskovac, Raska, Cacak and Alexandrovac, all in central and southern Serbia.

When the demonstrations started the army was conciliatory, sending a top general to talk with mothers of mobilised sons. But the comments published by Vijesti, a newspaper in Montenegro, where the government opposes Slobodan Milosevic, were much harsher. They suggest the authorities have lost patience and fear the virus of dissent may spread to Belgrade and the big cities.

The army statement threatened future protesters with instant trial before a "war court". Reaction will be "robust and the violators will be punished", it warned. Interior ministry police detained three leaders of an anti- war movement in Cacak on Monday and imposed fines of up to $750 (pounds 475).

Montenegro's government strongly opposes the war in Kosovo, even though the republic is part of Yugoslavia. Yesterday the authorities denounced army moves to recruit local men for the Kosovo front. "Sending soldiers to Kosovo is wrong," a minister told reporters in the capital, Podgorica. "I see no reason for dead and wounded to start coming to Montenegro."

Montenegro's media also reported street fights between army reservists from Serbia and residents of Cetinje, the former capital of the old Montenegrin kingdom and the centre of pro-independence activists who want to dissolve the Yugoslav connection.

Whether the Serb authorities can keep the lid on anti-war protests with military courts and other draconian penalties is unclear. While the majority of Serbs may still support the war, a growing number in Montenegro and in Serbia itself want Belgrade to agree to any settlement that guarantees Yugoslavia's ultimate sovereignty over Kosovo.

Yesterday Vuk Draskovic, sacked last month as Yugoslavia's deputy prime minister for his outspoken comments on the war, renewed public calls for a peace deal that would end the Nato air strikes. "This is not weakness, this is responsibility to save the people of this country, to save this country from terrorism and aggression," he said.

Mr Draskovic, who is leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, predicted that savage struggles would erupt inside Serbia as soon as the war came to an end.

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