- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia The recent dramatic arrest of a deputy prime minister and a U.S. diplomat has plunged Europe's most fragile democracy into a power confrontation at a time when public attention is riveted on the war-crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic.
"It is interesting how Kostunica is protecting and clinging to [former President Slobodan] Milosevic's pillars of power," said Goran Vesic, a top aide to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
He was referring to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, a nationalist who balks at cooperating with the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at the Hague, as well as to intelligence agencies from the Milosevic-era that continue to operate with little oversight.
As leader of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, Mr. Djindjic effectively shares power with Mr. Kostunica.
Tensions between the two have surged since the March 14 arrest of Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic and U.S. diplomat John David Neighbor as they dined at a roadside restaurant outside Belgrade.
The two were nabbed by an elite Yugoslav military security service unit. Later, Yugoslav newspapers reported they were exchanging "secrets" pertaining to Mr. Milosevic's war-crimes trial.
The arrests heightened concerns that the federal military and police, who report to Mr. Kostunica, are operating out of control.
The rift between Mr. Kostunica and Mr. Djindjic deepened further yesterday when Mr. Kostunica refused to fire the chief of the military security agency, as demanded by Mr. Djindjic.
Mr. Djindjic has expressed outrage that the military intelligence service had followed and wiretapped his deputy for more than five months, without informing the Serbian government.
He has said that if Mr. Kostunica does not sack military security chief Gen. Aca Tomic, the Serbian government won't cooperate with the Yugoslav president.
"I would remove Gen. Tomic only if I was sure that he breached existing regulations," Mr. Kostunica replied in an interview with the Blic daily newspaper.
"However, everything points to the fact that this was not the case and that Gen. Tomic, [military] security and the Yugoslav army have acted according to the existing regulations."
The standoff reflects a power structure in which several security agencies and other armed groups operate in secret.
"There are a lot of different centers of power here, and no one knows who's in charge," said Ivan Jankovic, the president of the Center for Anti-War Action.
"One of those centers is certainly made of parts of the former and current security services, whether military or civilian," he said.
Last year, an elite police unit called the Red Berets mutinied after it was forced to arrest two Bosnian war-crimes suspects, who were wanted by international prosecutors in The Hague.
The group came to Belgrade in armored personnel carriers, raising fears of a coup and prompting increased security in government buildings.
The Red Berets are one of several special units of the Serbian Ministry of Interior.
"These units have ill-defined, overlapping mandates and were active in some of the past decade's most problematic actions against civilians both inside and outside [Yugoslavia]," according to a recent report from the think tank International Crisis Group.
Today, Nebojsa Pavkovic, chief of staff of the Yugoslav army under Mr. Milosevic, remains in the same job despite an election campaign promise by Mr. Kostunica to remove him.
Sreten Lukic, who was the head of police in Kosovo prior to the 1998 air war, is now an assistant interior minister in charge of public security.
Beyond that, there are many quasi-legal groups that operate in secret, such as the Red Berets, which are accused of some of the worst atrocities in Croatia and Kosovo.
The groups are also widely suspected of being involved in organized crime.
"There are various murky businesses that are directly linked with [either the army or police]. So any kind of democratic control would make very many people much poorer," one analyst said.


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