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Serbia: U.S. Warns Government Not To Use Violence Against Protestors

Washington, 3 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - The United States is concerned that the Serb government may try to suppress the demonstrations in Belgrade with violence.

U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns Monday warned the government of President Slobodan Milosevic not to use force against peaceful protesters in the streets of Belgrade and other cities.

In a strongly worded statement, Burns said the United States would be "outraged" at any attempt to use force against the demonstrators.

Britain and France also called on Milosevic to show restraint following threats of Belgrade authorities that security forces were growing impatient with the situation.

In Washington, Burns said the demonstrators have the right to be on the streets to express their views peacefully as they are doing.

Students and opposition supporters have kept up daily street demonstrations in Belgrade for two weeks since their government overturned the results of the November 17 municipal elections. The Zajedno opposition coalition had claimed victory in the polls in most major Serb cities.

"The Serbian government stole the elections, and the Serbian government has to be accountable to the people for that action." He called it "an outrage against international norms."

Burns said the United States has made its view very clear to the Serb government in public as well as private, and at the highest level, directly to Milosevic.

"We have given them a very stiff message," Burns said, adding that "the message is that the Serbian government ought to respect the rights of the Serbian people...and the results of the municipal elections."

He urged the Belgrade government to find some way to back off its decision to "stifle those elections."

Burns also criticized the lack of news about the demonstrations in state-run media, saying: "We condemn the government's attempt to stifle information about these protests."

He said that nobody would know from watching state television in Belgrade that up to 100,000 people have been on the streets almost every day for more than a week.

Burns said the United States will continue to maintain a so-called "outer wall of sanctions" against Serbia -- mostly diplomatic measures imposed by the United States unilaterally that leave Serbia still isolated and barred from membership in many international organizations.

When Serbia signed onto the Dayton Peace Accords a year ago, trade sanctions imposed by the United Nations were lifted.

But in a hint that this could change, Burns said the United States reserves the right to introduce new measures or reimpose other restrictions to express its displeasure with the Serb government.

A leading U.S. Senator, Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), said the decision of Milosevic and his Socialist Party to annul the election results is a major setback for Serbia and also weakens long-term stability in the Balkans.

Lugar, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the comment in a statement released Monday which also criticized the international community, including the United States for what Lugar said was a weak response to the situation in Belgrade.