Skip to main content
April 24, 1995
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 186

Civilian-Military Games

by Filip Svarm

The 50th session of the Bosnian Serb parliament was held on April 15-17 in Sanski Most. One deputy said it was the most important parliament session since the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS) was proclaimed. The session was held behind closed doors.

Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti said Radovan Karadzic rejected a report by Bosnian Serb army (BSA) chief general Ratko Mladic. saying he had missed the point and was just issuing orders. Some parliament deputies demanded the general's resignation, accusing him of losing Vlasic and blaming him for the partial success of the Bihac offensive.

What did Mladic do to anger the politicians?

Novosti said he accused the civilian authorities of interfering in the line of command, demanded control of all economic facilities (especially fuel), declared the Pale-Belgrade rift the greatest tragedy of the Serb people "especially west of the Drina" and made highly pessimistic and defeatist predictions for the war. Specifically: Moslem and Croat forces are gaining strength and "if a political solution isn't found through negotiations, the war will be long and exhausting for the RS".

Mladic, if Novosti's sources are reliable, indirectly admitted that the Bosnian Serbs can't count on a military victory, or hold onto the 70% of Bosnia they now control and will face more losses. He asked the politicians to define optimal war goals and tell him what territories his men will fight and die for.

All in all, the genie of the 49-51% division of Bosnia (which Belgrade accepted long ago) seems to have been let out of the bottle.

A clash between the RS civilian and military authorities has been brewing for a long time. After the Pale-Belgrade rift last August, the Belgrade authorities made it clear that they did not consider the RS military the same as Karadzic, Momcilo Krajisnik and their politicians. Even though Mladic refused to side with Serbian political leaders at a meeting with Yugoslav Army (VJ) chief Momcilo Perisic in Zvornik, practically no sanctions were imposed on him and his men. The VJ did not ban them from crossing into the FRY, they didn't ask them to leave the BSA, they still had some privileges. The furthest the VJ went was taking BSA personnel off its payroll. Many feel that this was an effort to avoid rifts in the BSA and leave certain people in key positions.

In that context, the conclusion is that the BSA chiefs have maintained direct contacts with their VJ counterparts and the Serbian authorities. Unlike the Pale leaders, they don't need mediators for those contacts.

Karadzic's doubts about the BSA are understandable. General Mladic has not been insubordinate but he didn't offer his open support and his lack of time in public is obvious. Some interpretations are that Mladic decided not to expose himself politically and the result of the civilian authorities' efforts to marginalize BSA chiefs.

In any case, when the first serious military crisis began (the Moslem 5th corps offensive in Bihac) Karadzic insisted on his role as supreme commander and he donned a uniform. A completely different situation to Gorazde where Mladic just reported to Karadzic and played chess with his president on the front lines.

Civilian leaders also took some practical steps. One of the first was strengthening the police which they believe is completely loyal to them. It was first thoroughly cleansed of anyone who was considered even remotely dangerous. Then it was reorganized as a military organization. Special units were formed of 600-700 hand picked men to cover the entire RS and they even got military ranks. If these reports are true should they be seen as preparations by the police to take over military jurisdiction? During the latest fighting on Majevica, police special forces units were commended.

There are some opinions that Karadzic is trying to turn Mladic into the kind of army commander that Slobodan Milosevic has created. A man who is obedient, doesn't ask too many questions, follows every political turn and bears full responsibility for his actions. Confirmation of that can be found in Karadzic's speech at his Serb Democratic Party (SDS) main board meeting in Prijedor on March 14 where he announced a restructuring and reorganization of the BSA general staff. That statement was not made in the presence of anyone from the BSA. The idea is certainly not new and the recent B-H Army offensive and total political blockade of the Pale leaders came as the ideal pretext.

Several sources confirmed that Mladic came to Belgrade on April 6 and that other prominent officers under his command visited the FRY that same month. Who they met was not revealed. In any case general Mladic has drawn Bosnian Serb politicians out into the open with his speech in Sanski Most. They refused to impose a state of war and push themselves out of a job, something he indirectly requested as a precondition to continue the war successfully and in that way washed his hands of anything that could happen. Practically, he doesn't care whether Karadzic will remove any of his men (general Momir Talic is being mentioned because of Vlasic). Mladic has warned the civilian authorities and his reputation will survive future turmoil intact.

The situation has become a paradox; the army is urging negotiations, Karadzic wants an offensive. The soldiers have withdrawn for now and the politicians have to take responsibility for more war. That was clearly demonstrated when Mladic and Karadzic jointly toured the 1st Krajina corps on Vlasic. Karadzic said he was there to issue some warnings, see the situation on the ground and discuss future steps.

In the near future, don't expect to see the BSA chiefs try to destabilize the political leaders. That would be deadly to both and would not be pleasing to Belgrade either.

Something else is more realistic: joint efforts to start an offensive aimed at weakening the Moslem negotiating positions and discouraging the international community from pressuring the Bosnian Serbs and the FRY. The BSA will now turn to retaking Vlasic and the Bihac enclave. Rebel Moslem leader Fikret Abdic said recently it's just a matter of days before he takes control of all of the Bihac pocket. Considering their manpower, that could be the ultimate gain of the BSA. Responsibility for defeat has been removed since the RS parliament rejected Mladic's report. In any case, the BSA is slowly playing out the role Belgrade intended for it all along. Perhaps it will be enough if the BSA supports the RS opposition in their demands for elections.

© Copyright VREME NDA (1991-2001), all rights reserved.