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Yugoslav Military Supports New Army Chief - 2002-06-26

A potential power struggle between the Yugoslav military and the head of state appeared to have been averted Tuesday after top generals accepted a new armed forces chief and the dismissal of his predecessor. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica fired the previous commander, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who is been under investigation by the United Nations war crimes tribunal, but has not been indicted.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said he fired the 56-year-old General Nebojsa Pavkovic as armed forces chief "for the sake of civilian control and for the sake of democracy."

Although some senior government leaders criticized the president for acting unilaterally, the commanders said in a statement Tuesday they were "completely united in supporting" Col. Gen. Branko Krga as the new chief of staff of the Yugoslav Army. He is expected to oversee major reforms in the 125,000-member army.

The dismissal, however, was condemned by the Prime Minister of the main Yugoslav Republic of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, who has long been at odds with President Kostunica over reforms. General Pavkovic was credited with playing a part in the relatively bloodless overthrow of President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000 by refusing to attack pro-democracy protesters, but his past was more controversial.

President Kostunica told state television that General Pavkovic had long acted like a man who "thought he was above the army and that the army was above the state."

Appointed by Mr. Milosevic, General Pavkovic led Yugoslav armed forces during their 1999 confrontation with NATO in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prosecutors at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague said last November they were investigating Mr. Pavkovic over Kosovo, where more than 4,000 bodies have been exhumed from mass graves.

Some analysts believe he also played a crucial role in the destruction of the Croatian city of Vukovar, which the Yugoslav army overran in 1991 alongside local Serbs who opposed Croatia's independence.

General Pavkovic himself maintains he has nothing to be ashamed of.