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Yugoslav Army Troops Active Inside Bosnia

Intrusion raises stakes for how the West should respond if Belgrade aims for a `Greater Serbia'

WESTERN powers face increased pressure to respond as evidence mounts that the Yugoslav Army has been fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

UN soldiers, including those at senior levels, and Yugoslav and Western journalists have told the Monitor they have seen Yugoslav troop movements inside Bosnia, and Yugoslav officers, which they believe are helping coordinate Bosnian Serb military operations.

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Such eyewitness accounts and reports by other well-informed sources refute claims by Belgrade that it is not directly involved, and that the 22-month-old conflict is an ethnic and religious war.

Whether it is such a war or a phase of a plan to create ``Greater Serbia'' by merging areas of Bosnia and Croatia to the rump Yugoslavia of Serbia and Montenegro is a distinction on which Western governments, including Washington, have waffled.

They initially condemned the war as an aggression against an independent state and slapped sanctions on rump Yugoslavia. But Western powers gradually shifted their public view to that of a civil war, thereby justifying their refusals to intervene.

Acknowledging the sanctions' failure to halt Serb military involvement would further complicate the Western approach to the crisis, increasing intervention pressures. Belgrade insists its Army withdrew from Bosnia in May 1992.

Some of the most compelling proof to the contrary has for months been in the possession of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia and is known to some commanders, the Monitor has learned.

But UNPROFOR has officially said nothing about Yugoslav troops, while periodically citing the presence of unknown numbers of regular Croatian Army soldiers in Bosnian Croat-held areas.

``There has always been [troop] movement from Belgrade.... What we need to know is the density and the concentration,'' a UNPROFOR official says on condition of anonymity.

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``Even if there is movement, it has to be certified and totally foolproof. UNPROFOR cannot get into that game,'' he says, suggesting it has not been pursued for lack of resources.

``We cannot confirm or deny the reports,'' says Shashi Tharoor, a senior official in the UN peacekeeping office in New York. Privately, UN sources say the information was never relayed to New York.

European Union mediator Lord David Owen has warned against the Croatian Army presence, which has provoked threats of sanctions by the United States and its allies. But, Lord Owen dismisses as ``rumors'' reports about the Yugoslav Army.

Diplomats and the public herehave assumed that Yugoslav troops operate inside Bosnia. But there has been little effort at substantiation. Indeed, the UN dropped a plan to deploy monitors on the Serbia-Bosnia border when Belgrade rejected the idea.

Interest appears to be growing, however, with last week's signing of an accord between Serbia and Croatia. Touted as a step toward normalizing ties, the accord is widely seen as the forging of a new Serb-Croat alliance to force the Muslims to accept a three-way partition of Bosnia.

Some military analysts expect large numbers of regular Croat and Serb soldiers to be used in this effort. Without them, Bosnian Croat troops would be badly outnumbered in central Bosnia and Bosnian Serbs short of infantry.

Western diplomats say such an alliance cannot not be tolerated by the international community, but they are unable to suggest what the response might be.

Proof of troops' presence

UNPROFOR soldiers in the field have provided some of the strongest proof that Yugoslav troops are inside Bosnia.

They have monitored regular movements between Serbia and eastern Bosnia of units of the 63rd Parachute Brigade. The brigade, one of the Army's most elite contingents, is based in Serbia's southern city of Nis.

Members of the UN Nordic Battalion now deployed in the Bosnian city of Tuzla have seen unit movements and had conversations with unit members who admitted that they had been in or were bound for Bosnia.

``They are rather proud of that,'' says Capt. Jantura Strandaas, a Norwegian UN logistics officer. ``They sort of brag about it....'' Captain Strandaas says the conversations have taken place when brigade soldiers from a nearby transit base wash their laundry at a Yugoslav Army facility UNPROFOR uses in Pancevo, 10 miles from Belgrade.

Strandaas says UN Nordic soldiers based in the eastern Bosnian town of Zvornik saw small bus convoys of Yugoslav troops motoring in and out of Bosnia. ``Norwegian reconnaissance spotted them,'' he says. ``Efforts have been made to find them [inside Bosnia], but they were unable to.''

Strandaas says Norwegian troops detailed their sightings in daily ``situation reports'' sent to UNPROFOR's Bosnia headquarters in Kiseljak, about 20 miles northwest of Sarajevo.

Asked if they were familiar with the reports, most senior UN officials at Zagreb headquarters say they were not. They admit many reports are not sent from Kiseljak to Zagreb. And they say UNPROFOR lacks the basic intelligence operation to synthesize such data.

One senior UN commander, however, disclosed that UNPROFOR believes that the Yugoslav Army general staff in Belgrade is directly involved in planning and coordinating important Bosnian Serb military operations.``We know that there are liaison officers of the Yugoslav Army in the major headquarters of the Bosnian Serb side. That is what we have seen.''

Non-UN sources provide other eyewitness accounts. A Belgrade-based Yugoslav journalist told the Monitor that two weeks ago he saw a Yugoslav Army convoy on the highway linking Zvornik and the main Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale.

The vehicles turned onto a road leading toward the Bosnian Army-held town of Olovo, he says. Bosnian Serb forces were then launching an offensive to capture Olovo in an apparent bid to cut Tuzla off from Sarajevo.

``It was midday,'' says the journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity. ``They didn't hide anything. There were registration plates from Nis and other Yugoslav Army bases. I was pretty stunned when I saw them.''

A Western reporter last week also saw a column of Yugoslav Army trucks heading from Serbia into the northeastern Bosnian Serb-held town of Bijeljina, towing 105mm howitzers.

Further proof came Jan. 18, when the state-controlled Belgrade daily Politika published an obituary of Yugoslav Army captain Goran Galjak.

In the notice, Galjak's family said, ``He died from enemy fire Dec. 27, 1993.''

The Yugoslav Army has never acknowledged Galjak's death. But well-informed sources told the Monitor that he was among as many as seven Yugoslav commandos killed in an ambush by Bosnian army soldiers near the industrial area of Vogosca, a Bosnian Serb-held suburb on the front lines around Sarajevo.

The same sources say that other Yugoslav soldiers have died in Bosnia, including 20 killed during a counteroffensive early last year against the Muslim-held eastern enclave of Srebrenica.

Yugoslav troops used

Milos Vasic, the military affairs correspondent for the Belgrade-based magazine Vreme, says he was told by a senior Yugoslav Army officer that Yugoslav troops are used regularly inside Bosnia for sensitive operations. Mr. Vasic says large numbers of Yugoslav troops are now being dispatched to Bosnia as part of the Serb-Croat pact to cooperate against the Bosnian government.

He says President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia is ``desperate'' to force a settlement to the Bosnia war and obtain an end to UN sanctions, which have helped fuel a total collapse of rump Yugoslavia's economy.

``The problem is that the only way to make the Bosnians do anything is by force,'' Vasic says. He and Western diplomats say they believe the coming weeks may see Tuzla become the target of that strategy, despite NATO threats to use air power to prevent strangulation of Tuzla and five other UN-decreed safe havens.

``According to their [Serbian] calculations, it is worth the risk committing Yugoslav Army troops in Bosnia,'' Vasic says. ``If anyone raises the issue, they can always say `It's a lie.' ''

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