YU army won't oust Milosevic

BELGRADE, Feb 3, 2000 -- (Reuters) No one should count on any kind of military takeover to oust Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army said on Wednesday.

"...all the international speculators are mistaken in thinking the army should be turned against its own citizens," Momcilo Perisic told Reuters in an interview.

Perisic said that by the same token any attempt by Serbia's ruling elite to use the army to crush dissent would not succeed because most officers would not be drawn into politics.

"It tries to make...a few people in the army, if not the army as a whole, function only as a defender of the ruling party," he said.

"But even if they try they will not succeed, except with a few people who due to a misunderstanding or their own personal interests turn themselves into their personal servants."

The West is hoping that popular dissatisfaction in Yugoslavia will lead to the ouster of the Serbian strongman, blaming him for a decade of Balkan bloodshed.

However, the fragmented opposition has so far failed to put Milosevic under any serious pressure and some diplomats as well as many ordinary Serbs hope his close associates will oust him.

Perisic was chief-of-staff of the Yugoslav army from 1993-98, a period in which it was involved in fighting in Bosnia and in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Ousted by Milosevic

He was ousted by Milosevic in November after he publicly warned him against confronting NATO over Kosovo. Four months later, the alliance launched air strikes after the Yugoslav president refused to accept an international peace plan.

Perisic was also believed to have blocked military intervention in Slav-dominated Montenegro - the only republic left with Serbia in Yugoslavia - during 1998 clashes between Milosevic supporters and police loyal to the pro-Western leader.

Now in opposition to Milosevic, he declined to comment on his former boss or say whether he thought middle-ranking and senior officers supported his successor Dragoljub Ojdanic.

Ojdanic has accused the West and the independence-minded Montenegrin authorities of fuelling tension in the republic, where many people fear a possible outbreak of violence between the army and the heavily-armed Montenegrin police.

Ojdanic was one of four of Milosevic's aides indicted with the Yugoslav leader by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague for alleged war crimes in Kosovo.

Top generals also regularly talk about an imminent return of Yugoslav forces to Kosovo, something Perisic said was totally unrealistic and designed to hide the fact Milosevic took the country through almost three months of air strikes in vain.

Asked if an offer by the Montenegrin authorities to pay troops based on the territory in German marks rather than weakening Yugoslav dinars could split the army, Perisic said no.

"The army is a united Yugoslav organization acting equally in the entire Yugoslav territory. As an institution it is hard, better said impossible, to manipulate outside the constitution."