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Serbia: U.S. Broadcasters Provide Voice For Silenced Radio Journalists

Washington, 5 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - The Serb government of President Slobodan Milosevic was the target of more international condemnation Wednesday as the United States stepped up diplomatic pressure and took measures to counter the closing of Belgrade's only independent radio broadcasts.

U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Wednesday that the U.S. official government radio Voice of America is expanding Serb language broadcasts and will air reports from Radio B92 journalists.

B92, the last independent broadcaster in Belgrade, was silenced by Serbian authorities earlier this week.

The U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe has made similar arrangements to expand its service to the region, as well as provide a venue for independent Serb journalists.

An RFE/RL statement said Wednesday that RFE/RL's Belgrade news bureau will work with journalists from B92 to provide fair, honest and uncensored news and discussion of the political situation in Serbia.

At the State Department, Burns said the United States is on the side of democracy in Serbia.

"The U.S. believes that the voices of the Serbian people ought to be heard on Serbian radio and television, ought to be heard on the streets of Belgrade and throughout the country and that the votes of the Serbian people on November 17 ought to be counted fairly and allowed to stand as a true reflection of the sentiments of the population."

Students and opposition supporters have staged daily marches of tens of thousands of people to protest their government's annullment of municipal elections in which the opposition claimed victory.

In an outspoken warning to the Serb president, Burns said: "Slobodan Milosevic will not have our support if he continues his efforts to try to extinguish the flames of democracy that those protesters are carrying in the streets of Belgrade."

The United States sent a similar warning through diplomatic channels conveyed by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in talks with Serbia's foreign minister Milan Milutinovic.

They met Wednesday in London where both are attending an international conference on the Bosnia peace process. Burns said it was a tough meeting.

Talbott made clear the United States feels very strongly that violence must not be used against the demonstrators in Belgrade and other cities in Serbia, Burns said.

He said Milutinovic promised that his government would not resort to force and in response, Talbott told Milutinovic the United States will judge the Serbian government based on its actions, not on these promises."

Burns said the participants at the London conference, representing more than 50 countries, were almost unanimous in expressing concern about the situation in Belgrade.

He said "any crackdown by the Serbian government will provoke a harsh reaction from the international community," adding that it would become "impossible for the Serbian government to enjoy a normal relationship economicaly, or politically, or otherwise, with any government in the West that believes in human rights."

As he has been doing all week, Burns again reiterated that the United States will maintain unilateral, mostly diplomatic sanctions against Serbia, and reserves the right to ask the United Nations Security Council to reimpose U.N. trade sanctions.

Burns said the United States has not yet taken this step because it hopes that: "the Serbian government will cease and desist from its efforts to act like Communist thugs from the Cold War period" adding that "when hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets you ought to listen to them."