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Milosevic's next target: judiciary?

As turmoil continues in the Balkans, the Yugoslav leader may tightencontrol by purging judges.

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With ethnic conflict in Kosovo and Bosnia grabbing the world's attention, Serbian officials appear poised to launch a crackdown on the judicial system - a sweeping move that would strengthen the Balkans' leading instigator, Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr. Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, has repeatedly used moments of social and political turmoil to tighten his control of state institutions in Belgrade. It is how he survives despite having the support of an estimated 30 percent of voters.

And rarely has there been as much turmoil as there is now.

In Kosovo, the southern Serbian province, violence continues between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. Although the Albanians appear likely to sign a US-brokered plan that would grant the region autonomy, the Serbs say they will reject a provision in the proposal that calls for some 28,000 NATO troops to police an agreement. US envoy Richard Holbrooke is expected to meet this week with Milosevic in Belgrade, and a resumption of peace talks is scheduled for March 15 in France.

In Bosnia, the country west of Serbia that broke from Yugoslavia in 1992, tension flared this weekend with the firing of a hard-line ethnic Serbian political leader and an international decision to allow the disputed town of Brcko to be ruled by all three ethnic groups: Serbs, Muslims, and Croats. Hard-line leaders in the Serbian half of Bosnia still look to Milosevic for guidance, and Belgrade officials point to Bosnia as further evidence of a US-led conspiracy against the Serbs.

Justifying crackdowns

Although the conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia are not directly linked, they are neatly tied together by Milosevic, who is credited with having started four wars during a decade of rule. Critics say that Milosevic cannot survive politically without conflict, and therefore he encourages instability and nationalism to justify crackdowns at home.

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