PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The dismissal of Gen. Ratko Mladic, who has been indicted in war crimes, as leader of the Bosnian Serb army won support from Western officials yesterday.
But foreign diplomats and Bosnian Serb officials warned that it was still unclear whether the Bosnian Serb president, Biljana Plavsic, who announced Friday night that she had dismissed the general, would succeed in asserting control over the army.
"We don't know what it is going to mean in substantive terms until the next couple of days have played out," said Maj. Simon Haselock, a NATO spokesman. But he said that anything that strengthened civilian authority over the Bosnian Serb military should be welcomed.
The man named to replace Mladic -- Pero Colic, who was a major during the war but has since been promoted to major general -- said yesterday that he fully supported the peace agreement reached last year, which calls for a unified Bosnia.
There was no public reaction from Mladic to Plavsic's dismissal order. United Nations officials said he was thought to be meeting with other senior officers.
And diplomats said the question of who really controlled the Bosnian Serb military had yet to be decided.
"Of course she wants to be in charge of the army -- any politician would; it's the most powerful institution," a European diplomat said. "But the army comes from a tradition where it had fairly complete control over the things it thinks are important, and deciding who will be the top leader is one of the most important matters."
Plavsic, a member of the inner circle of political leaders throughout the war who was elected president of the semiautonomous Serb Republic in September, has also
announced a complete reorganization of the top military leadership.
Although this move, if successful, would further extend her control of the military, she may also have given military leaders more reason to support Mladic should he resist her order to step aside.
"We've seen this same thing fail in the past with the Serb politicians -- all it did was make them look weak and the army look strong," said a European diplomat, referring to the attempt by Plavsic's predecessor, Radovan Karadzic, to oust Mladic and 14 senior officers last year. They refused to step down.
A U.N. spokesman, Alex Ivanko, said it was heartening to see an officer who was charged with war crimes by the international tribunal at The Hague removed from command, but he added that the next step should be for Plavsic to send Mladic to the tribunal.
But Plavsic's reasons for dismissing the general may have very little to do with his indictment. Karadzic, one of Plavsic's political colleagues in the Bosnian Serb inner circle, is named in the same indictments as Mladic.
Although there has been serious friction between Bosnian Serb civilian and military leaders for some time, the president made it known beginning three weeks ago, according to diplomats, that she was going to dismiss most of the general staff.
Diplomats said she had become upset with the fact that almost all senior officers in the Bosnian Serb forces are from the Yugoslav army and are still paid by Yugoslavia.
"She believes, and rightly so, that if they're on someone else's payroll, they are taking orders from someone else," a Western official said.
Pub Date: 11/10/96