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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Yugoslav army backs general's sacking
General Nebojsa Pavkovic
Pavkovic says his dismissal is a result of US pressure
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica appears to have won the support of the country's military following his decision on Monday to sack Army Chief of Staff Nebojsa Pavkovic.

President Vojislav Kostunica
Pavkovic's removal is an about-turn for Kostunica
General Pavkovic, a close ally of former president Slobodan Milosevic, had refused to step down and there were concerns about the army's response.

But at a meeting of Yugoslavia's Supreme Defence Council in Belgrade, army leaders pledged their loyalty to the president.

The BBC's Matthew Price in Belgrade says the move is being presented as part of ongoing efforts to reform the Yugoslav army, which are seen as essential for developing closer ties with the West.

The 125,000-strong army is also a huge strain on the state's resources, with 95% of the federal budget going on defence spending.

Challenge unlikely

Belgrade's military elite agreed that the main task now was to build unity in the army under the leadership of its new head, General Branko Krga.

Former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic with General Pavkovic
Milosevic (l) originally appointed Pavkovic

There has been no response so far from General Pavkovic.

But the opinion of most legal experts is that it is unlikely he will be able to mount any serious challenge to his dismissal.

Our correspondent says that the response from the president's key political rival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, will be more interesting. Mr Djindjic has already described General Pavkovic's dismissal as a scandal.

Kosovo role

Domestic and international politicians had been calling for the general's removal because of his links with Mr Milosevic's discredited regime.


President Kostunica has practically decided that my service ends as of Tuesday, as if I were the greatest scum in this state

General Pavkovic
He was appointed chief of staff by the former Yugoslav leader after commanding the army during its confrontation with Nato in Kosovo in 1999.

A year later, however, he refused to use troops against demonstrators taking part in protests that led to the overthrow of Mr Milosevic.

Mr Kostunica said on Monday he had sacked Mr Pavkovic for the sake of democracy, and to preserve civilian control over the military.

But General Pavkovic accused the president of acting out of "personal vengeance" and treating him like "scum".

Our correspondent says the move to retire General Pavkovic from army duties is a major about-turn for Mr Kostunica, who had stood by the general despite calls for the best part of two years to remove him.

He says that while Mr Pavkovic remained head of the army it was unlikely the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague would make any move to indict him, but that he now appeared more vulnerable.

General Pavkovic's departure would leave Serbian President Milan Milutinovic as the only close former Milosevic ally who has kept his post since the popular revolt of October 2000.

 WATCH/LISTEN
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The BBC's Matthew Price
"He will not stage any kind of coup"

At The Hague

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See also:

24 Jun 02 | Europe
30 Nov 01 | Europe
24 May 99 | Europe
12 Jun 02 | Europe
01 Apr 01 | Europe
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