Yugoslav President Seeks Military Backing to Remove Army General

With the army's chief of staff defying orders to quit, President Vojislav Kostunica on Tuesday lobbied top generals to back his decision to fire the commander and end the latest political crisis in Yugoslavia.

In a move likely to find approval among Western governments, Kostunica fired Col. Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic by special decree late Monday, saying he wanted to ensure "civilian control over the army" and because Pavkovic "believed that he is above the army and above the state."

But Pavkovic refused to accept his dismissal, arguing that Kostunica did not have the authority to fire him -- especially because other members of the Supreme Defense Council did not endorse Kostunica's decision.

"I will not carry out this order," Pavkovic said.

A high-ranking officer speaking on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that Kostunica called Tuesday's meeting of commanders from the army, air force and navy to seek their support.

"The President wants to try to secure approval for his decree and to secure the proper functioning of the armed forces," the officer said.

Pavkovic led the Yugoslav army during its 1999 confrontation with NATO in Kosovo but later played a key part in the bloodless overthrow of Milosevic by refusing to order the army to protect the president when he was ousted two years ago.

Pavkovic has been investigated by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for his role in the Kosovo campaign, but there has been no indictment. Milosevic, who was ousted in October 2000, is currently on trial in The Hague on charges of genocide and other crimes committed during the Kosovo conflict and other Balkan wars.

Struggling to keep his post, Pavkovic on Monday alleged that the country's political leadership was being pressured by the U.S. Administration.

There has been no official U.S. demand to fire the general, but his association with Milosevic and role in the Kosovo campaign has tarnished his image abroad.

Pavkovic said, while challenging his dismissal, said he would not oppose his replacement, Gen. Branko Krga, a career intelligence officer seen as politically neutral.

Krga issued a statement Tuesday promising to perform his new duties "with full responsibility, dignity and in the most professional manner."

The constitution is ambivalent on whether the president can act alone in dismissing the chief of staff.

Initially close to Kostunica, Pavkovic in recent months has moved closer to Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic of Serbia, the president's greatest rival. Serbia, home to more than 90 percent of all Yugoslavs, effectively sets national policies.