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Crisis in Yugoslavia | NEWS ANALYSIS

No Fast Fix in Quest to Oust Milosevic

Strategy: Many see Yugoslav leader gaining strength as valiant defender of his victimized nation.

April 04, 1999|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — In the view of President Clinton and most Western leaders, the problem behind the death and destruction that have ravaged the Balkans during this decade is simple: Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

And unless Milosevic is removed from power by the intensifying NATO bombardment, virtually all who have analyzed his bloody march to power agree, there is no hope of halting the violence and suffering that afflict the region.

But how and when the mastermind behind the mayhem in the Balkans will make his exit are questions of intense debate and broad disagreement.

Milosevic could be blasted out of a bunker by an alliance "smart bomb," and, like Adolf Hitler, become the victim of his own suicidal defiance, forever relegated to an abyss of shame for making his nation an international pariah.

If he survives the NATO offensive, which many critics fear is likely, he could continue his rule for years but be haunted by the prospect of being brought to justice for crimes against humanity, like former Chilean strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

There is also the theory that Milosevic could meet the same end as did Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, a seemingly untouchable tyrant who was toppled and executed in December 1989, when Romanians despaired of their own misery as all around them in Eastern Europe were embracing a new era of democracy and hope.

Many, though, foresee a Saddam Hussein-type scenario in besieged Yugoslavia, with Milosevic gaining strength as the valiant defender of his victimized nation under attack by the world's most powerful military alliance.

Rather than encountering the fitting justice dealt Hitler, Ceausescu and Pinochet, however belatedly, Milosevic could end his days in comfortable old age and still in absolute power, as did the man who was arguably this century's greatest dictator, Soviet leader Josef Stalin, who died in his sleep at age 73.

A master tactician who knows exactly how far he can go before making a concession, Milosevic can be expected to somehow slither out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's noose to threaten peace elsewhere in the future, say analysts in this city that was savaged by an earlier conflict instigated by the Yugoslav strongman.

"Milosevic always survives by playing with the rules," said Jakob Finci, director of the Soros Foundation's Open Society Fund, which is working to restore democratic institutions in postwar Bosnia. "He will find some way of accepting what he earlier rejected, as he first opposed [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] monitors in Kosovo, but then agreed when they were reinvented as 'verifiers.' "

Finci expects Milosevic to agree to a U.N. protectorate status for Kosovo when a pause in the bombardment can be arranged, and thus remain in power and perhaps even strengthened by popular anger surrounding the loss of the province Serbs regard as the crucible of their kingdom.

"He is well protected, and it will never be easy to catch him," Finci said. "But after what has happened in Kosovo, he will be indicted in The Hague [seat of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia], and even Russia could not oppose that. It's clear after Pinochet that there are no safe havens for tyrants."

"He's got to go," said Charles Forrest, a Balkans expert representing the American Bar Assn. in Sarajevo. "He started something here that can only end with his removal, unless we get a Saddam situation with a lunatic in the middle of Europe."

Unfortunately, Forrest concedes, the example of Hussein's being left in power in Iraq despite the ferocious Desert Storm assault of 1991 and repeated Western bombardments since then suggests that Milosevic might also survive to wreak havoc another day.

"I don't see his own people taking him out; he's wildly popular," said Forrest, who served with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in the mid-1990s. "But we've so demonized Milosevic, he cannot be a party to future negotiations. Who could ever sit down with him and negotiate a deal?"

Some analysts see the potential catalyst for a military coup planted in the Yugoslav military ranks by the constant denunciations of Milosevic by Clinton and other leaders who contend that NATO is directing its firepower against the Yugoslav president and not the Serbian people.

"It wouldn't be the first time in Serbian history that some kind of international signal has been sent to prompt young officers to throw the king out of the window," said human rights activist Zdravko Grebo, director of the Sarajevo Law Center.

In 1903, young officers of the notorious Black Hand faction stormed the Royal Palace in Belgrade, the Serbian and now the Yugoslav capital, and killed King Alexander Obrenovic and his wife, Queen Draga, then threw their bodies out the palace windows. The revolt was believed to have been encouraged by Russia, which feared that Obrenovic was moving Serbia too close to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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