YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

2 Yugoslav Republics Go on War Footing Amid Crisis


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — This country's largest republics moved onto a war footing Saturday, with Serbia and Croatia mobilizing police and reservists in the wake of a federal leadership crisis that has heightened the likelihood of a military coup.

Serbia's hard-line Communist president, Slobodan Milosevic, declared that his republic will no longer recognize the authority of the federal presidency and said the disintegrating federation of Yugoslavia has "entered the final stage of its agony."

The question remained open whether the federal army, whose officer corps is predominantly Serbian and staunchly Communist, would intervene to fill the power vacuum created by the collapse of the federal presidency.

The eight-man collective body charged with commanding the armed forces was incapacitated by the resignation of its chief, Serbian Communist Borisav Jovic. Although the Yugoslav constitution is vague about succession, Jovic's departure appears to leave army Chief of Staff Blagoje Adzic--one of the most authoritarian figures in the Yugoslav hierarchy--as commander in chief of the military forces.

Croatia and Slovenia, the northernmost republics, which have been working toward independence from the crumbling federation, have said they will immediately secede in the event of a military takeover in Yugoslavia and have vowed to defend their sovereignty with force.

Croatia ordered its 43,000 police and paramilitary troops on full alert early Saturday, after the armed forces threatened to take unspecified "emergency measures" despite twice failing to win presidential support for declaring a state of emergency.

The military high command said emergency powers are needed to prevent the battle over Yugoslavia's future from escalating into civil war. While the northern republics want to abandon the federation ruled from Belgrade, Serbia has insisted that the country be held together, by force if necessary.

It was the army's failure to win authorization for martial law that prompted Jovic to resign Friday. Two other Serbian Communists in the collective presidency, from the republic of Montenegro and the province of Vojvodina, followed Jovic in pulling out of the federal leadership, thereby intensifying the leadership crisis.

Some Western diplomats speculated that the army would be unwilling to stage a coup that would serve only to preserve the power of Milosevic, who faced his greatest challenge in three years as Serbia's political strongman last week when anti-Communist demonstrators paralyzed central Belgrade for five days. Military intervention in the political strife would trigger revolts in Slovenia and Croatia and might lead to mass defections among the multi-ethnic rank and file, they said.

But in the absence of a military takeover, Yugoslavia faced an extended and highly volatile armed standoff between Serbia and Croatia, where ethnic hostilities have been stoked to the boiling point.

Some of the military brass also reportedly believe that imposition of martial law would force the rebel republics to pay their share of costs to support the federal government. Most of the republics have been withholding some funds for the federal budget--two-thirds of which goes to the armed forces. That has delayed paychecks for tens of thousands of state workers, including the army.

Milosevic ordered the Serbian alert and formation of special militia units on the pretext of unrest in its predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo and in a Muslim region of neighboring Bosnia and Hercegovina. But there were no reports of trouble in either area.

The stocky, crew-cut Serbian leader's call to arms seemed more a summons to fight for Serbian domination of Yugoslavia.

In a televised address from his Belgrade office before a backdrop of the Serbian colors, Milosevic plucked at the nationalist heartstrings of the Serbian nation.

"The forces of the anti-Serb coalition have planned and are now trying to realize the disintegration of Yugoslavia," Milosevic said.

He accused the collective presidency of sabotage that "enabled the creation of republican armies which directly threaten the security of the country, all its citizens and especially the republic of Serbia and the Serb population outside the republic."

"Under the existing conditions, the republic does not recognize the legitimacy of the federal presidency," Milosevic declared.

He pressed for protection of the 600,000 Serbs living in rival Croatia. Serbia's Communist-controlled media have repeatedly accused the Croatian leadership of plotting to kill minority Serbs in the republic, and provocative incidents in Serbian regions of Croatia have been blamed on Milosevic supporters.

Police Saturday reported the fifth bomb blast of the week in Croatia's largest Serbian enclave, Knin.

The Serbian Parliament last month issued a declaration saying that all Serbs want to live in one country, essentially demanding that steps be taken to avert the secession of Croatia.

Los Angeles Times Articles