Yugoslav army 'ready to fight West'

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The Independent Online
THE Chief-of-Staff of the Yugoslav armed forces gave an implicit warning yesterday that his units would fight back if Western countries launched military strikes against Serbian positions in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

'Although any foreign military intervention would be completely illogical, and would risk spreading the war throughout the continent of Europe, the Yugoslav army has been on alert for some time and is prepared to respond to any eventual aggression,' said General Zivota Panic.

Gen Panic was commenting on the virtual certainty that the United Nations Security Council will pass a resolution authorising the use of force to keep Serbian aircraft grounded in Bosnia. The United States and its European allies are still working out the exact terms of the resolution, with Washington apparently favouring a stronger version that would allow the bombing of Serbian airfields used by planes violating the air-exclusion zone.

There have been no recorded Serbian combat flights in Bosnia for the last two months, and Western military experts suspect that the Serbian air force is in a state of considerable disarray. But Western governments want to pass the UN resolution in order to stop helicopters ferrying military supplies, fuel and food from Serbia to Serbian-controlled areas of Bosnia.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, warned the West last week that the so-called 'no-fly zone' resolution, if passed, could mean that UN personnel in Bosnia would become a legitimate military target. This is of particular concern to Britain, which has 2,400 soldiers on the ground helping to ensure the safety of UN humanitarian aid convoys in Bosnia.

In Belgrade, with more than 63 per cent of votes from Sunday's election for the Serbian presidency counted, the hardline incumbent, Slobodan Milosevic, was leading his moderate rival, Milan Panic, by 55.95 per cent to 34.49 per cent. But an official election watchdog committee suggested there should be an investigation into allegations of ballot-rigging and media manipulation. 'The first early elections were held in an atmosphere of unequal media campaigning and pronounced mistrust between parties,' the committee said.

In the southern city of Nis, anti-Milosevic activists alleged that up to one in 10 potential voters, mostly young people who would have cast their ballots against the Serbian leader and his Socialist (ex-Communist) party, had been struck from the electoral list. The committee said that such violations, if confirmed, 'would question the regularity of the elections in general'.

Preliminary results yesterday gave the Socialists 99 seats in the 250-seat parliament. The opposition coalition, Depos, which supported Mr Panic, had won 40 seats. But the Serbian Radical Party, whose ultra-nationalist views are close to those of the Socialists, appeared to have picked up 75 seats.

That appeared to mark a real breakthrough for the Radicals, a militant group whose leader, Vojislav Seselj, has been named by the US as a man who should stand trial for alleged war crimes. Among six independent candidates who won seats was Zeljko Raznjatovic, known by his nom de guerre of Arkan, who is also on the US list of suspected war criminals.