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Yugoslav army warns against armed conflict


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The federal army broke a troubling three-day silence yesterday, easing fears of an imminent military coup by promising not to interfere in Yugoslavia's political crisis.

But the armed forces warned that they would "under no circumstances permit interethnic armed conflicts and civil war" and also signaled their readiness to halt unrest such as the anti-Communist protests that paralyzed Belgrade last week.

The statement from hard-line Communists of the high command took no notice of Serbia's deliberate destruction of the collective federal presidency, which has deprived Yugoslavia of leadership and the armed forces of a commander in chief.

While the army has so far appeared reluctant to step in to protect the political power of Serbia's Communist strongman, President Slobodan Milosevic, its statement left the door open to virtually any move it deems necessary in the future.

The army vowed to protect existing borders throughout Yugoslavia and demanded fiscal and political discipline from all six republics. It specifically warned those trying to secede from the crumbling federation that they would be prevented from doing so unless they secured agreement from the other republics.

Angered by army threats to forcibly prevent its secession, Slovenia earlier this month stopped sending recruits to the 180,000-man federal army and has been withholding much of its contribution to the federal coffers for months.

Yesterday's statement was the first word from the army since it threatened to take unilateral action after twice failing to win presidential support for a state of emergency.

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