Washington, 30 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - A senior American official dealing with the former Yugoslavia told members of a U.S. Congressional committee that Serbian opposition is far from united, making it difficult to bring change to that country.
The comments were made Thursday by Robert Gelbard, special representative of the president and secretary of state for implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords. He testified before the Senate European Affairs subcommittee on prospects for democracy in Yugoslavia.
Gelbard, who was deeply involved in the Dayton peace accords negotiations, told the committee that he is in regular contact "with every segment" of the opposition, urging them to "overcome the politics of ego and work together for the common good of Serbia."
Said Gelbard: "I have told opposition leaders -- and I want to emphasize here -- that the United States, and the international community more broadly, cannot do their job for them."
He said he told them the U.S. and its allies can buttress the opposition's efforts, provide training and technical assistance to opposition parties, and help widen the reach of the independent media. But Gelbard said: "We cannot win the hearts and minds of the Serbian people."
Gelbard said that can only happen if the opposition unites around a strong platform for change that "emphasizes the destructive nature of (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic's policies and presents a viable democratic alternative."
Said Gelbard: "It is not for us to pick a single winner out of the opposition pack; it is for them to combine their different strengths in service of a great goal."
Gelbard outlined U.S. policy with regard to Serbia, again noting that as long as the Milosevic regime is in place, the United States will provide no reconstruction assistance to Serbia. Although he said the U.S. continues to provide humanitarian aid.
He also told the subcommittee members what is being done to promote democratization in the former Yugoslavia. Among the efforts he listed the following points:
-- Making sure that Milosevic remains completely isolated;
-- Assisting wide array of democratic groups, including non-governmental organizations, political parties, media and independent labor unions;
-- Coordinating activities with allies in Europe, both on Kosovo and Serbia;
-- Providing support to the reformist government of Montenegro.
Gelbard said the U.S. and its allies are moving on two fronts with regard to independent media. He said that in order to increase the amount of objective news coverage reaching the Serbian population, a network of transmitters is nearing completion that will permit broadcasts of Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and other international news programs on FM frequencies throughout the country. Gelbard called the network the "Ring around Serbia."
He said that Radio Free Europe has now increased its Serbian-language broadcasting to 13 1/2 hours daily.
Gelbard said that an even more important task is to strengthen Serbia's own independent media. He said Serbs, like Americans, prefer to get their news from "their own sources, in their own context."
Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), who chaired the session, said: "We have an opportunity in Yugoslavia that we must not let pass. Milosevic has been weakened by the Serbian defeat in Kosovo. And I feel that for the first time, many average citizens of Yugoslavia have finally decided that they've had enough as well of his policies of repression and destruction. He is now vulnerable."
But Smith added: "As we all know, he has managed to be in vulnerable positions before, always managing to outmaneuver his opponents. He seems to be able to divide and conquer that way."
This was the first in a series of such hearings by the subcommittee. Smith said that in the fall, the committee will examine the course of political and diplomatic events that led to the NATO bombing in Kosovo.