Clinton Orders Actions Against Yugoslav Leader
President Clinton has decided to mount a concerted campaign to remove Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from power and is harnessing an unusual range of tools to do it, from international aid to covert CIA action, officials say.
The 11-week air war over Kosovo convinced Clinton that the best way to secure peace in the Balkans is to oust the Serbian leader and help Yugoslavia become more democratic, according to aides.
Among the actions that have been launched are a CIA-led operation aimed at exposing and disrupting Milosevic’s financial dealings abroad--including a plan to use computers to hack into his accounts, secret contacts to encourage Yugoslav military leaders to move against the president, clandestine meetings with Serbian opposition leaders to forge an anti-Milosevic coalition and a proposal to provide overt political aid for democratic forces in Serbia.
At the same time, Clinton and his European allies have loudly told the Serbian people that they could get millions of dollars in reconstruction money from the West--if they push Milosevic out of office.
“I do not believe we should give them any money for reconstruction if they believe [Milosevic] is the person who should lead them into the new century,” Clinton said at a news conference Friday. “I do not, and I will not, support it.”
After the failure of similar efforts to undermine Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other foreign leaders, U.S. officials are setting no specific goals or deadlines.
“We don’t want to give the false impression of progress,” an intelligence official said. “But we’re very serious about trying.”
Another official said of Milosevic: “He could be very vulnerable. There are significant signs that his rule is fracturing, and we want to see if we can encourage that process.”
Working for the U.S. efforts is the fact that Serbia, unlike Iraq, is still sufficiently democratic that public opinion can have a significant effect. That is why the “public” parts of the campaign are seen as just as important as the cloak-and-dagger efforts.
Among the actions that U.S. officials point to:
* Covert action. Clinton has notified Congress that he has directed the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies to undermine Milosevic and encourage his ouster, officials said.
The covert program has several components, including the controversial proposal to use computers to drain funds from foreign bank accounts held by Milosevic and his allies. Some Treasury Department officials warn privately that this technique could legitimize computer hacking as a tool of international conflict.
Officials refused to say whether the computer raids have actually been attempted against Milosevic, who is believed to have stashed assets in Greece, Cyprus, Switzerland, Russia and Lebanon. “There may be as much ‘psy war’ going on here as ‘cyber war,’ ” said one--suggesting that one purpose of the plan is to rattle Milosevic’s wealthy backers and prompt them to withdraw their support for him.
* Coup. Clinton has authorized U.S. military and intelligence officers to encourage senior Yugoslav military figures to turn against Milosevic--and even attempt a coup, one official said.
“We want these guys to see that they have a very bleak future if Milosevic is still in power,” the official said.
Other aides cautioned that the immediate prospects of a coup do not appear high because Milosevic has carefully removed independent-minded officers from his armed forces and cultivated those who remained.
* Opposition. A senior State Department official, Robert S. Gelbard, has held a series of clandestine meetings with Yugoslav opposition leaders inside Montenegro, Serbia’s junior partner in the Yugoslav federation. One such meeting was publicly revealed by the Serbian participants in mid-June, but it was only the latest of several secret contacts, officials said.
“We’re intensifying our contacts with all the different elements of Serbian society, to work actively for the day when a new leadership can come in,” a White House official said Friday.
Gelbard traveled secretly into Montenegro during the war, even though the republic is garrisoned by armed forces loyal to Milosevic. He told the opposition leaders that the United States would support them but encouraged them to forge a broad anti-Milosevic coalition, one official said. Serbian participants in the talks included Zoran Djindjic, president of Serbia’s opposition Democratic Party, and Vladan Batic, chairman of the Alliance for Change, an opposition coalition.
* Reward. The Clinton administration announced last week that it is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Milosevic’s arrest and conviction on war crimes charges--the first such reward ever offered by the U.S. government for the arrest of a foreign head of state.
“We have not put a price on Mr. Milosevic’s head for someone to kill him,” Clinton said Friday. “We don’t try to do that to heads of state.”
Instead, officials said, the order was intended both to rattle Milosevic and his allies and to put other Yugoslav officials on notice that they risk similar action if the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague hands down more indictments.
One senior official said that the tribunal has already prepared more indictments of figures in Milosevic’s inner circle but hinted that those cronies might be spared if they turn against their leader. “These guys have a choice to make,” he said.
Milosevic and four top aides were indicted by the tribunal last month on charges that they directed the Yugoslav military campaign of murder and deportation against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province.
* Asset freeze. The administration is pressing other countries to freeze the assets held by Milosevic and other indicted Yugoslav officials in overseas bank accounts.
Switzerland, a traditional haven for hidden assets, announced last week that it has ordered its banks to freeze all accounts belonging to Milosevic. Cyprus also has been quietly cooperating with the United States, officials said.
* Financial aid. The State Department is working on several proposals for overt financial and technical aid to anti-Milosevic forces inside Serbia.
One idea, not yet approved by the White House, is for direct U.S. reconstruction aid to municipal governments in cities whose mayors are up-and-coming democrats opposed to Milosevic. But some U.S. officials have warned that Milosevic might try to divert the aid to other parts of Serbia or simply withhold funding that would otherwise come from Belgrade.
The administration also is hoping to help the Serbian opposition by funding professional political consultants through the foreign aid branches of the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties.
“It’s an uphill battle,” acknowledged Tom Melia, vice president of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Democrats’ foreign aid arm. “Milosevic won a couple of elections, including some that appear to have been reasonably honest. The democratic camp has not been the Serbian public’s first option. . . . But we want to be back in there to help anybody who wants our assistance.”
* Reconstruction. To dramatize Serbia’s isolation, Clinton has called for an international summit by the end of July on Balkan reconstruction efforts.
One purpose: to encourage European and other wealthy countries to commit significant aid to Kosovo and to Serbia’s neighbors, including Albania and Montenegro. Another: to remind the Serbian government and people of what they are missing by keeping Milosevic in power.
* Propaganda. U.S. officials are waging an unusually energetic propaganda war against Milosevic, doggedly publicizing evidence that his regime may be in trouble.
“He’s going to be under a lot of pressure during the next couple of weeks,” one U.S. official said. “Anything could happen.”
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