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News archive January-March 2000

Serbs defy draft

Hundreds of army reservists have taken to the streets of Kraljevo to protest against the Yugoslav government's latest draft.

By Miroslav Filipovic in Kraljevo

Government officials sent to round-up army reservists in the Kraljevo area of central Serbia got more than they bargained for when they arrived in the village of Stubal.

About 200 protestors, upset by the death of three local men in the recent Kosovo conflict, met the officials with a barrage of insults and invective. "Red Gang! Go and Get Marko!" they shouted, referring to the son of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. "Fuck You Milosevic!" they chanted before driving the officials from the village with wooden staves.

The confrontation between the protesters, armed with sticks and agricultural tools, and the draft officials, accompanied by Yugolsav Army, VJ, officers, could easily have ended in tragedy.

One of the officials, Ljubinko Milojevic, said, "They wanted to hurt us. At one point I thought about pulling out a gun and shooting in the air. But we reached the car and left the village."

This latest call-up of reserve soldiers began seven days ago in central and southern Serbia, in the towns of Nis, Leskovac, Vranje, Kraljevo, Raska, Krusevac and Kursumlija.

Some observers have noted that the draft is affecting areas controlled by opposition political parties, particulalry those areas, which received heating fuel from the European Union under last winter's "Energy for Democracy" programme.

General Nebojsa Pavkovic, chief of the VJ general staff, has denied reservists are being drafted, insisting they are being called-up for "regular training." The draftees, the majority of whom have already fought in Milosevic's wars, dismiss his claim, convinced they being mobilized for a new war.

Some believe they will be sent to southern Serbia to fight Albanian militants. Some think they'll be dispatched to Kosovo again to take on NATO forces and Kosovo Albanians. And some suspect they will be used to confront the Montenegrins.

But the willingness of reservists to take part in new military adventures has gone. In Kraljevo, a town where the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement and Democratic Party hold power, only 15 per cent of reservists have responded to the call-up.

"If they mobilize me now, it will be my fifth war," said Igor from Novi Selo. "I was in Croatia, Bosnia, and twice in in Kosovo. I was wounded twice, and I lost three friends. I don't know I can survive all this."

A Kraljevo mother, Dragica Pesic, watched her three sons go off to the war in Kosovo. After two days of intense worry, her husband Stojan joined up as a volunteer to be with his sons.

"I went insane with worry then," Dragica said. "Now they are drafting them again. The police came to our door and said my sons are deserters. I will not let them go. Where are they going? To fight their brothers in Montenegro? I've told them, if they decide to go again, they should bury me first."

Opposition to military service is much more open than last year. During the NATO bombing campaign parents hid their sons. Now protesters are prepared to confront the authorities. On March 13, around 200 furious reservists descended on Kraljevo town centre to demand an explanation from the military. Kraljevo mayor, Mladomir Novakovic, said he tried to get someone from the VJ to talk to the protestors, to calm the situation. "No one in the army would admit they were in charge," he said.

The protestors sent a list of demands to the VJ general staff, calling for an immediate halt to the call-up of veterans from all the former Yugoslav wars and the demobilisation of those already drafted. All 200 reservists signed the attached petition.

The town's mayor has called an emergency session of the local assembly. "We will tell the regime not to drag our young men into their private wars ever again," Novakovic said. "If Milosevic really wants to go to war, he should do it alone with his police."

Pupils from the local high school, excused classes because of a strike by teachers, also lent their support to the protest.

Zoran, a final year pupil, said, "Tomorrow it will be our turn, these officials will draft us and fill coffins with our bodies. For that reason we want, while there is still time for us, to try and put a stop to this and any other draft."

Dusan Vukovic, whose only son died in Kosovo, called on the people of Kraljevo to continue defying the draft. He held Milosevic responsible for the death of his son and 75 other young Kraljevo recruits killed in Kosovo. "I wish him [Milosevic] the same fate as me - mourning clothes and no heirs."

Such is the scale of resistance to the call-up, the military authorities have called in the civilian police to help roundup draft-dodgers. And accusations of police brutality are adding to the sense of bitterness.

Dragan Nikolic, from a village west of Kraljevo, said four police officers arrived at his farm to collect his brother. "They fell on my brother, pushing him to the ground, " he said. " Two other officers appeared from the backyard, tied him up and threw him into the back of the van like an animal."

Another reservist said he had responded to the call-up because he knew the police were arresting those who refused to come forward. He said that police had brought two men to his army barracks the day before, "Both were tied up and looked like they had been beaten."

Miroslav Filipovic is a correspondent for Danas in Kraljevo


When international sanctions block most exports, the few remaining markets should surely be prized. Not in Serbia.

By Milenko Vasovic in Belgrade

When earlier this month Valjevo businessman, Mihailo Todorovic, dispatched a lorry filled with frozen pastry to a trusted customer in Macedonia, he thought he was doing his bit to help the Serbian economy back on its feet. Instead, police turned up at his door to inform him that he was breaking the law.

In what is believed to be a move to put the squeeze Podgorica, Serbia has banned food exports to Montenegro, Macedonia and Repbulika Srpska, with the result that goods which were in transit are being returned to their manufacturer.

The new policy is the result of a February 2 order of the Ministry of Agriculture and has reminded local observers of Serbia's trade war with Slovenia a decade ago. Then Belgrade attempted to use a trade embargo to exert pressure on Ljubljana and ended up driving what was then Yugoslavia's wealthiest republic out of the federation.

Many analysts are predicting that the current strategy will prove equally counter-productive.

Mladjan Dinkic, member of the G17 group of independent economists, estimates that the export ban will cost the Serbian economy about $40 million a month and says that the decision "tops the madness and economic ignorance of the decision makers."

Todorovic's company is only one of many hit by the export ban with the result that Serbia's borders are clogged with lorries full of goods which can no longer be sold abroad. Belgrade company Univerzal, for example, had sent 600 tonnes of corn to Macedonia, but the delivery has been stopped at the Tabanovci crossing point and the delay is costing the exporter 120,000 dinars ($2,250) a day.

Despite last year's war, Serbia has been able to produce more than enough food to feed its own population and thus has a surplus which could be exported. Apart from Macedonia, Republika Srpska and Montenegro, however, the country has minimal access to other markets.

The logic behind the ban appears to be to force Montenegro to buy more expensive food products on the international market and in so doing undermine the anti-Belgrade government of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. Republika Srpska and Macedonia are included in the ban, lest Serbian food exports are simply rerouted via these entities to the Yugoslav federation's junior member.

Although Belgrade may have been hoping to trigger social unrest in Montenegro with the export ban and thus destabilise the government there, it is actually in Serbia where opposition has begun to manifest itself.

Serbia's largest meat-processing companies, Neoplanta from Novi Sad and Karneks from Vrbas, have both publicly expressed their hostility to the export ban which is already costing them dear. Last year, despite the war, Karnex earned $1 million from the export of liver pate to Macedonia alone.

The Yugoslav Chamber of Commerce asked the Serbian government to remove all barriers which prevent the export of goods to foreign markets. The Chamber's foreign trade committee president Vasilije Ilic complained that: "Businessmen suffer great losses because of the ban, but are unable to change anything."

Criticism of the export ban has also come from Vojislav Simanovic, a leading official in the Yugoslav United Left (JUL), the political party of Mirjana Markovic, Slobodon Milosevic's wife. In his capacity as director of Serbia's largest food-processing conglomerate, PKB, he has pleaded with the Serbian government to be left to pursue commercial interests without political interference.

In response, the Serbian government has allocated $10 million to cover the losses of manufacturers which have been obliged to stop trading with Montenegro.

The issue of exports and imports should, most observers believe, be the responsibility of the Yugoslav government, which includes Montenegrin representatives, and not that of Serbia. Moreover, the ban on food exports to Macedonia breaks the terms of a free-trade agreement between rump Yugoslavia and Macedonia which outlawed unilateral trade bans.

Last year, rump Yugoslavia was Macedonia's second-largest trading partner behind Germany with some $350 million worth of goods exchanged between the two countries. Although shipments of goods from Macedonia to Yugoslavia, intended for Montenegro, have been held up for weeks, Serbian envoys assured their Macedonian counterparts in trade talks in Skpoje at the beginning of March that no ban was in place and that misunderstandings would be cleared up.

Montenegrin newspapers have published a copy of the February 2 export ban order signed by agriculture minister Jovan Babovic who described the document as a forgery.

Since Babovic is a minor figure in the Serbian government, most analysts believe that he would not be the driving force behind the export ban, simply someone who has to see it implemented. If, however, the strategy does prove counter-productive, Babovic may end up the scape goat.

Meanwhile, the trade war between Belgrade and Podgorica continues to escalate as Montenegrin lorries filled with goods for Serbia being are systematically turned back at the border. Indeed, even a lorry containing medicines in short supply in Serbia was ordered back to Podgorica.

The Yugoslav Army is also becoming increasingly involved in the conflict and is blocking Montenegrin exports to third countries.

At the border crossing of Bozaj at the Montenegrin-Albanian border, for example, the Yugoslav soldiers turned back a lorry from Bijelo Polje filled with paper destined for Albania telling its driver that he required permission of the Yugoslav Army's Podgorica Corps to export to Albania.

Milenko Vasovic is a regular IWPR contributor from Belgrade.

© Institute of War &Peace Reporting

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