Milosevic prepares ground for coup in Pale

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIAN monster created by Slobodan Milosevic has slipped its leash, and in attempting to summon it home, the Serbian President is playing the most dangerous game of his career. Mr Milosevic, an elected dictator who rules Serbia with an iron hand, has been ruthless and cunning in dispatching rivals; but Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, has so far resisted all commands to do his erstwhile master's bidding - to say 'yes' to the peace plan for Bosnia.

Diplomats say the Serbian leader has a choice to make in the next few days: to station on his border international observers who could verify the Serbian blockade of its clients in Bosnia; or to oust Mr Karadzic. The odds are on the latter. Few observers in Belgrade would gamble on Mr Karadzic to defeat his old mentor.

Nineteen days ago Mr Milosevic, desperate to avoid the threat of tighter sanctions on Serbia, imposed a blockade on his Bosnian proteges to force them to accept the Contact Group peace plan. The proposal requires the Bosnian Serb leaders in Pale to surrender 30 per cent of the land but it also allows them the right of 'co-operation and confederation' with another state, according to a text of the proposal published yesterday in Politika, the regime's favoured mouthpiece.

The constitutional proposals seem extremely generous to the Bosnian Serbs, more or less acknowledging that the union of Bosnia-Herzegovina exists in name only and, in effect, granting their desire for a formal alliance with Serbia. Yet Pale said 'no' three times.

This weekend the Bosnian Serbs are expected to endorse the leadership's decision in a referendum, a move that is likely to bring international retribution. 'No' means the continuation, even the tightening, of the UN embargo, and ultimately an end to the ban on arms sales to the Bosnian government. 'Sanctions will be tightened on Yugoslavia unless the Bosnian Serbs accept the plan,' said one Western diplomat. 'If Milosevic has clearly cut off the Bosnian Serbs . . . it would be a mistake to punish him.' But 'We don't really accept (he has) unless he has observers on the border'. The Security Council is expected to consider two sanctions resolutions, one tightening the international embargo, one loosening it, in the next few days.

In a meeting on Monday with Yasushi Akashi, the senior UN official in the region, Mr Milosevic reiterated his refusal to accept monitors, whose presence here would imply a huge loss of face and, perhaps, of power. The President seems still to have little to fear within Serbia - he controls the police and the media, has emasculated the army with a series of purges and has crushed dissent within his own Socialist Party. There are rumblings of discontent among ordinary Serbs, most of whom oppose the blockade, but the opposition seems incapable of harnessing public opinion. But if he is to preserve his absolute control Mr Milosevic must act quickly, analysts say.

'This is the worst situation of his career,' said Bratislav Grubacic, an analyst in Belgrade. '(Serbia's leaders) really don't know what to do, and if it goes on too long, it could weaken Milosevic.' The President is expected, therefore, to orchestrate some kind of a coup in Pale, led perhaps by General Ratko Mladic, the military commander revered by Bosnian Serbs.

He has been notably absent recently and has failed to speak up for Mr Karadzic. His roots are in Belgrade, his heart is almost certainly set against the plan, but his head should be telling him to side with Mr Milosevic, who has prepared the ground well. In a campaign of breathtaking hypocrisy, Belgrade has put the case for a coup by accusing Mr Karadzic and his allies of war crimes, corruption and betrayal. It has questioned the validity of the referendum and sought to sow dissent among the regions: Pale behaves to Banja Luka as 'a wicked step-mother'.