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Yugoslav Military Prepares to Take on West With PM-Yugoslavia Rdp, Bjt

August 8, 1992

PONIKVE AIR BASE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Maj. Zivojin Petrovic appeared ill at ease behind the rostrum in the officers’ mess when a visiting general asked how the Yugoslav air force would fare if attacked by U.S. aircraft.

There was a long pause.

″We could counterattack, if our early-warning system functions properly and if we survive their first strike,″ replied the MiG-21 squadron commander, biting on his clipped military moustache.

Petrovic, who recently returned from a 10-month course at the U.S. Air Force Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Base in Montgomery, Ala, praised U.S. fliers as ″exceptionally efficient professionals.″

The hypothetical question of how the Serbian-led Yugoslav military would respond to an attack has become real as demands grow in the West for military intervention in the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Western Europeans and Americans - horrified by the killing of orphans and reports of Serb-run Nazi-style concentration camps in TV news reports - are putting pressure on their governments to take action.

Foreign troops sent to protect humanitarian convoys would almost certainly clash with the Serb insurgents who have fought the Muslim-led government and control two-thirds of Bosnia. The Serbs have declared an independent republic.

Fighting could spill across the border into Yugoslavia, now consisting only of Serbia and Montenegro.

″We would fight if they come,″ Petrovic said. ″But I hope it will never come to that.″

Western strikes against airports, bridges and rail yards would strain the Yugoslav federal forces, still smarting from fighting in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia since mid-1991.

Yugoslav generals have publicly distanced themselves from the fighting in Bosnia. ″For us Bosnia is another country, just like Greece or Italy,″ said Gen. Zivota Panic, armed forces chief of staff.

The brass has been edging politically toward Yugoslav Premier Milan Panic, a California businessmen, and away from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, seen by the West as the instigator of Yugoslavia’s warfare.

But a fight with the West could swing the military back toward Milosevic, an ardent Serb nationalist.

The federal army, 200,000-strong a year ago, has been reduced to 80,000 men as Croats, Muslims and Serbs have returned home - some joining armies in the newly independent republics.

The army is estimated to have lost, abandoned or turned over to Bosnian Serbs about a third of its pre-war 1,850 tanks and 1,000 armored personnel carriers, along with thousands of artillery pieces. It pulled out of Bosnia in May, but some soldiers serving there were local Serbs who are thought to have stayed to fight for the government.

It is not clear how the army would respond to Western efforts to open supply routes in Bosnia, but analysts say it would not oppose an overland route from the Croatian coast to Sarajevo.

But a move into northern Bosnia would affect a crucial link between Serb- held territory in Bosnia and Croatia and Serbia itself, and could meet with stiff resistance.

Although the navy lost few ships, it appears to be suffering as well. Four frigates, five attack and six midget submarines, 35 torpedo and missile boats, 30 patrol craft and 35 landing vessels are now anchored in Montenegro’s Kotor Bay.

But the navy, which mainly drew its personnel from Croatia’s coastal regions, is said to be critically short of sailors. The navy also lost its maintenance facilities on the north Adriatic after Slovenia and Croatia broke from Yugoslavia.

The air force abandoned its most sophisticated airports and air defense installations but still has 16 MiG-29 interceptors and about 100 older MiG- 21s, along with about 100 Yugoslav-built Super Galeb, Jastreb and Orao ground-attack jets. It is believed to have lost about 60 planes and helicopters in fighting in Croatia that ended earlier this year.

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