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November 17, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 267
Dual Authority in the Army of the Serbian Republic (BSA)

Mladic versus Noriega

by Perica Vucinic

The President of the Serbian Republic (RS) Biljana Plavsic has made the long announced move and on November 8, as the commander-in-chief, has signed a decree on changes in the BS Army. By the strength of the decree, general Ratko Mladic is no longer the first man of the army of the Bosnian Serbs. The Main Headquarters (GS BSA) have changed their name into the General Staff of BSA, and instead of a commander who was synonymous with Serbian armed forces, Pero Colic, a general-mayor hardly known to the public at large, was appointed.

Even though the President has carefully prepared her manly move, her decree has caused an escalation of animosity which has existed amongst the army and the government of the RS throughout the Bosnian war. The highest ranking army officials, who are in the largest part loyal to general Mladic, reacted by reflex. Deputy head of the GS general Manojlo Milovanovic stated that the army shall stand up against the decision of the President Biljana Plavsic on replacing general Mladic from position of BSA commander. "Only parliament can relieve him of his post. Nothing has changed nor will it change", stated Milovanovic to a Dutch radio station. "No one shall be removed from office, all goes according to plan", he also added.

Two authorities have been established in BSA. Beside the General Staff, stationed on Pale, where the new top officials of the army swore to "defend the sovereignty, territory, independence and Constitution of their homeland", at the same time in Han Pijesak Mladic's headquarters were in session, which concluded that the "attempt at forming parallel headquarters is a clear case of a replacement of GS and its commander" and that it presents a "very dangerous attempt of breaking up the army".

What followed could be classified as a war of the nerves. According to the statements from Mladic's headquarters the civil police put up check-points on the road towards Han Pijesak in order to hinder a possible meeting with the generals who have remained loyal to him; the government announces that the new army commander Colic has presided over the first joint meeting with commanders of the corps which brought about a response by way of another announcement that the generals were conducted there by the police; followed by news that Colic and Mladic have met in Han Pijesak. Mladic's headquarters react by denying it and sending out announcements that the police have stepped up their level of combat readiness in order to undertake measures and "combat activities against BSA members and units" and that special police units in cooperation with international forces are tightening the circle around GS. From a source close to the high-ranking army officials who refuse to accept President Plavsic's decree, VREME acquires information that the level of combat readiness has been raised in the army barracks as well, to "be prepared for eventual police actions".

The situation has drastically escalated and what was at first presented as making a mountain out of a molehill is threatening to turn into an army rebellion, and the conflict between the army and the government which was in the air throughout the war could come about a year following its end.

The army of RS which had waged war has decided to enter into open confrontation with the authorities only when its interests have been directly jeopardized. If it had commenced such an act during the war, especially towards its end, it would have had official support from Belgrade as well as a large part of the international community which Belgrade had persuaded that Mladic was under their control. He refused such an act, as VREME'S source from circles which were close to him during the war states, with the explanation that he cannot accept the role of being the instigator of an inter-Serbian conflict. Such consciousness which can be attributed to the Serbian patriarch as well in Mladic's case is based on his instinct that Belgrade, directly suggesting to the military top ranking officials to topple Karadzic, was actually looking for a scapegoat, which the commander-in-chief of the Serbs in Bosnia refused to be.

Mladic had two alternatives: either to be a scapegoat or to join Karadzic in the same boat. He refused both. As a man who believed in all that he said, he decided to stay on. For this case his often repeated words are highly pertinent: "I shall be commander-in-chief for another ten years", by which he kept irritating his top officers. They acknowledged him his personal bravery, honesty, righteousness, capacity for forgiveness, but above all and more often they also acknowledged his narcissism. "The main headquarters should create a system not charisma", are words of a retired officer, in essence loyal to Mladic.

The ousted commander-in-chief of BSA today cannot with certainty know which of his officers who are supporting him in his open conflict with the government are truly with him. As peacetime set in even his commanding capabilities are brought to question in a louder voice. Military experts are asking why he had to enter Srebrenica in the front line and "with a gun", when his duty is strategic planning, rather than managing troops. In a commentary of the BSA colonel Dragan Marcetic, who had relinquished Banja Luka's "New Rupture" in a friendly gesture to our editorial office prior to publishing it in his own newspaper, the author asks himself why there was such an insistence on defending 72 percent of the BIH territory, when it was evident that the RS army had neither enough manpower nor equipment to achieve such a task. "It is undoubted that starting from 1995 GS was harboring a misconception while evaluating their military capabilities which had started to dwindle since mid 1994", concludes Marcetic.

As the propaganda war which is waged between the army and the government announcements should not be totally believed in, it is uncertain as to who is by Mladic's side in Han Pijesak. The only thing that is certain is that general Manojlo Milovanovic, deputy head of GS and Milan Gvero, in charge of political activities, are with him. Gvero was absolved of all duties by Plavsic in package with general Zdravko Tolimir, head of the department for security and intelligence activities. Among colleagues in BSA, Manojlo Milovanovic rates as a brilliant, even "perfect" operational officer who was seen during the announced army changes as Mladic's successor as commander-in-chief. Tolimir is known as a brilliant performer in all military schools which he had completed and activities which he had conducted. Even though he was officially ousted from office, he met in Sarajevo with the commander of IFOR land troops, general Michael Walker.

The RS military, logistically connected to Serbia and the Yugoslav Army (VJ), never had direct contacts with their authorities. Even though RS policies fed both its vision and inspiration from official Belgrade interests, they coolly accused the army of the "red plague", alluding that it was ideologically connected to Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

Of all its political tasks, BSA, in accordance with testimony as stated for VREME by a commander of Mladic's army, received only one concrete assignment from Belgrade: to oust Karadzic. BSA set territorial goals by itself. According to the same source, it had also defined the war goals by itself. "We wanted to end the war as soon as possible", says this witness. According to him, the offensive on Igman and Bjelasnica was conducted in order to get Sarajevo to capitulate. The last time BSA had strategic initiative was in the offensive on Bihac, which was stopped "by political command".

The second issue that is troubling them is how to identify those who are implementing the will of Pale and Belgrade in the army. Serbian officers in Bosnia do not accept that 13 municipalities in Krajina, by which RS was reduced to 49 percent of the BIH territory, were lost in military combat. In this action of NATO, Croatian and Federation of BIH forces, seven BSA generals (one third) remained without a homeland.

The army had named "war profiteers" and warned that the combatants were hungry and in desperate need of clothes and shoes. Even today, a year after the war was concluded, parents of certain high-ranking Mladic officers are receiving food from the international humanitarian organizations, not to mention the families of the recruited combatants. The "ideological battle" is a battle of the replete and the famished, the excessively well-off and the miserable, and that the latter in these antagonistic pairs are being labeled as "red" certainly falls into the realm of ideological dogmas. Mainly, in most cases the latter have been in the army and as such did present a potential threat to the government. Besides that, they can be easily used in organized rebellion, as was manifested in Banja Luka in September of 1993.

When, following a long absence from the sessions of the National Assembly of RS, Mladic decided to attend the one held on April 16, 1995 in Sanski Most, he primarily decided to tackle the problems of funding the army. In 25 appeals -which he had presented to the authorities- were suggestions that all existing fuel should be used exclusively for army purposes; that all foreign currency and Dinar funds should be blocked in order to buy the necessary weapons and hand out wages to the soldiers; to explicitly define the war goals, to enable a stable system of supplying provisions to the army...

From his demands it can be derived that he is the commander of an army which has been bankrupted by government will and that at the beginning of 1995 (Vlasic had already been lost), is asking for funds to enable a continuation of activities (while maps are already being drawn up which will reduce RS to 49 percent of the BIH territory). Simultaneously, all is occurring at the time when the Belgrade regime press is proclaiming the BSA commander-in-chief as a man of peace, who shall stand against the "warmongering Karadzic who does not accept peace since he cannot profit by it". Someone had proclaimed the general as a peacemaker either by not consulting him, or failing to explain to him what the peace option in Bosnia, in the spring of 1995 really means.

By the Dayton peace agreement, it was limited to 12.000 soldiers. With such manpower, with limited armaments it cannot be the "sole guarantor of safety of the Serbian nation", as it presents itself in this last conflict with the will of the government. With the manpower with which they had emerged from the war (around 130.000 soldiers), it would not have strategic depth even for any kind of defensive, let alone offensive actions. Even with a huge manpower and background depth, it saw how it fared in the short war with the NATO pact.

Colic and Josipovic

According to unofficial data which VREME received from the Personnel Department of VJ, which encompasses BSA officers, this department has not "verified" the head of the General Staff of BSA, Pero Colic, his rank as general. In that case, Colic is the third BSA general who has been promoted by a decree of the authorities from Pale. Before him, in the same manner, the former ministers of defense Subotic and Kovacevic were handed general ranks.

Official information from Pale states the Mladic's successor has completed the Military Academy and Political College. The BSA Department of Information (loyal to Mladic), stated that Colic completed a lower-officers school, that he was retired with the rank of mayor and has reactivated his services during the war. He completed his war activities with the rank of colonel, as commander of the Fifth Kozarska Brigade.

His fellow soldiers acknowledge his services in stopping the BIH Army in the offensive for Kljuc, but state that after that well conducted operation he "retreated out of inexplicable reasons" and slackened on part of the front line on which the Army was far weaker than at Kljuc. Military experts say that in any case he lacks the education to reorganize the army. To the rank of general he had to leap over at least one more step - to manage an operative group, and to the present position, two more - to be head of a corps and commander of a corps.

On his deputy Dragan Josipovic diverse data also exists. According to the announcement from Pale, he has completed the Military Academy, and according to the Department of Information, his academy is - for a commissariat-officer. The Department of Information announces that he has abandoned the brigade in an attempt to "benefit by it materialistically".

VREME's reporter, during his stay in Ilijas where he was commander, could see for himself that Josipovic had his soldier's trust and never gave statements for the press.

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