THE president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, yesterday announced the end of his republic's six-month undeclared war against Croatia. In an unusually conciliatory speech to the Serbian parliament, Mr. Milosevic also admitted that his government had aided Serbian insurgents in Croatia during that war, though he insisted it was by "legal" methods.
Western diplomats in Belgrade speculated that by "legal," Milosevic probably meant he had distributed war materiel through the Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army, which led most of the attacks that captured one-third of Croatian territory.
The Serbian strongman in parliament also welcomed the imminent deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops. Final details of their deployment still have to be worked out but UN officials say that some 14,000 UN troops should arrive in Croatia in the second half of March following agreement by all sides in the conflict.
In most public declarations to date, Milosevic had struck a hard-line tone, calling for a Greater Serbia in which all Serbs - including some 700,000 in enclaves in Croatia - should live together. But on Thursday, Milosevic backed away from that vision, saying that a smaller Yugoslavia at peace was better than a larger one at war.
He still may retain some hope for a larger Serbia, however. An EC plan to carve up the central republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina into cantons - populated manily by either Serbs, Croats, or Muslims - would also enable Milosevic and Serbia to influence Serb cantons. Western diplomats believe that in UN- and European Community-sponsored negotiations following the UN troop deployment, Milosevic may attempt to annex some land in Eastern Croatia. Leaders of Serbia and Montenegro have declared they would like to b and together in a smaller Yugoslavia while the other four republics go their own way. Last week the opposition held rallies in Montenegro against the plan and for independence.
One apparent reason for Milosevic's unusually conciliatory tone is that the speech came against a background of growing discontent with his rule. Opposition politicians for the first time called in parliament for his resignation, blaming him for economic and social disaster.
Mass demonstrations are planned for March 9, the anniversary of an uprising against Milosevic in Belgrade, when two people died as Milosevic sent tanks, police, and soldiers onto the streets.
Milosevic appears to be keenly aware of the possibility of violence on March 9. In his speech he warned opposition politicians to "behave responsibly" and not to go out on the streets.