Army 'coup' against Yugoslav presidency

October 2, 1991

By Peter Annear

The federal army is now an independent factor in the national conflict in Yugoslavia, Sonja Licht, co-convener of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, an eastern European peace and human rights watchdog, told Green Left Weekly in Belgrade.

This was confirmed on September 21, when Yugoslav federal President Stipe Mesic announced that the army had carried out a virtual coup. President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia-Hercegovina also said the army is acting autonomously and unconstitutionally.

Besides Serbian and Croatian forces, a "third force in war mode is the federal army itself", said Licht. The army is "waging its last battle thinking its whole future depends on how things now develop. But it is far from clear just who is in control of this independent force. In reality, the army headquarters is in control. But who is in control of the headquarters?"

Constitutionally, the army is under the control of the federal presidency, but this is no longer the case in fact. In response to the army's unilateral actions, Stipe Mesic appealed to all federal soldiers and officers to ignore orders and take no part in "illegal, aggressive action" against Croatia "by generals who are out of control" — that is, to desert.

Mesic had attempted to convene a session of the collective federal presidency and had asked federal defence minister General Veljko Kadijevic to halt all troop movements until the session was held. He received no reply. Mesic believes the federal army will continue to occupy Croatian territory once the blockade is relieved.

Through an interpreter, Mesic said: "General Kadijevic put his signature to the agreement on a cease-fire [negotiated September 19 by Lord Carrington, along with Croatian President Tudjman and Serbian President Milosevic]. He promised that army would retreat to the barracks. He promised that peace would be restored.

"But actually, by his very signing of the agreement, he already announced the arrival of the coup. He put his signature down on the cease-fire document without the backing of the presidency and without government backing, which means he made his decision autonomously. The army has been operating in an autonomous manner; in other words, this has actually been a coup. It also means that the presidency no longer holds or represents real power."

Federal army tanks have unilaterally moved into Bosnia-Hercegovina, widening the conflict. The republic's presidency demanded the army's withdrawal and ordered mobilisation of territorial defence units. Its defence minister officially complained to Kadijevic about the mobilisation of federal reservists inside Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Bosnia-Hercegovina President Izetbegovic told the BBC's Hugh Prosser-Jones, "This mobilisation is not legal and we call citizens not to answer the mobilisation ... [The army] says it has to do this because the presidency is not effective ... The army is led not by presidency, but is autonomous and so it now is in a kind of unconstitutional state."

Sonja Licht says the military situation is complex. "The army is bombing the cities, which is an act without legitimacy and the greatest possible mistake. On the other hand, the Croatians have created a contradiction by taking the federal army barracks because if the army now 'returns to barracks' then it would have to confront the Croatian National Guard and Special Forces there ...

"We are facing a war that will be very bloody and that will not bring any good result. At some point it will stop, as all wars do, but I am sure we will not be any closer to a solution ... This is the greatest tragedy."

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