Bosnian Serb leader accuses Milosevic of treason


Sarajevo - The essential ingredients of Balkan political life - paranoia, the pursuit of power, propaganda, cold cash and a heady mix of self-delusion and deceit - are on display in the quarrel between the military and civilian leaders in Pale, "capital" of the Bosnian Serb statelet, writes Emma Daly.

Radovan Karadzic fired the latest shot in his fight to oust General Ratko Mladic by issuing a bizarre letter to the only Serb politician who counts.

In it, he accused the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, of treason in allowing the Croatian army to overrun the Krajina Serbs, but then begged for Belgrade's help to retake the region.

"If it is true that politics is the art of the possible, so far you have not shown much skill," Mr Karadzic wrote, according to a copy of the letter released by his news agency.

"I urge you, before it is too late, to use your influence so that the Yugoslav army will fulfil its obligations toward Krajina."

His plea seems likely fall on deaf ears. Mr Milosevic has shown no inclination to help Krajina's Serbs, preferring instead to pull the strings through General Mladic, a career soldier, with no interest in politics, seen as loyal to Belgrade.

Mr Karadzic's position has faltered since the imposition of a blockade last summer by Belgrade, accompanied by apropaganda barrage - most of it probably true - in the Serbian media, accusing him of war-profiteering. He is unpopular among ordinary Bosnian Serbs outside his stronghold of Pale, is resented in Banja Luka, the largest city in the self-declared "Srpska Republic", and is the subject of an indictment by the UN war crimes tribunal.

General Mladic has also earned the attentions of the tribunal in The Hague, but at home he enjoys the adulation of the troops and the masses, who see him as hard but honest. The failure of the peace process and the upsurge in fighting has sidelined Mr Karadzic. His military commander is recognised as the leader by Mr Milosevic, by Moscow and, rumour has it, by the international mediators.

Last Friday Mr Karadzic sacked General Mladic as commander-in-chief, blaming him for losses in western Bosnia, and assumed the mantle of command himself. However, the general then declared the order "illegal" and all 21 Bosnian Serb generals have declared their support for General Mladic.

But the "parliament" supported Mr Karadzic and "the rule of law" - a dubious concept in the "Srpska Republic".

The struggle, which has rumbled for months, turns on two factors: who controls the purse strings of the army; and who represents the "Serb nation".

"The crux will be the amount of resources that Karadzic - if there is a split - is able to divert or withhold from Mladic," said one UN official who knows both men.

The general has complained of lacking the resources needed to win the war, implying that the civilian leadership has pocketed vast sums from smuggling and "taxing" expatriate Serbs. The civilians have criticised General Mladic for recent battlefield defeats.

Mr Milosevic has lambasted both groups for refusing to accept the international Contact Group's peace plan, and has tried in vain to persuade General Mladic to launch a coup.

It is hard to predict a civilian victory in a society at war, particularly in one as militaristic as the "Srpska Republic". Mr Karadzic might find himself bundled out of Serb territory and into the jurisdiction of the UN tribunal.

But, despite the hostile rhetoric, convenient amnesia may set in for the sake of "Serb unity". It would be characteristic of both men to allow the dust to settle, deny that anything came between them but a tiny misunderstanding, and then get on with the business of waging war and making money.

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