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Serbia: Analysis From Belgrade--Chances For Settlement Waning

By Dusan Radulovic

Belgrade, 22 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The exhausting endurance test between the government and the opposition continues in Serbia amid growing indications that there may not be many opportunities left for a peaceful solution to the standoff.

The government of President Slobodan Milosevic is still dragging its feet over recognition of the opposition victories in the November 17 local elections. At the same time, state-controlled media, particularly television, have again intensified their campaign against the opposition. Both are signs that the ruling Socialist-led coalition does not intend to cave in, but is instead weighing its options, including the possible use of force.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Belgrade reports this conclusion can be drawn from the latest treatment of events in Serbia's troubled Kosovo province. Kosovo has long been a powderkeg of nationalist tensions, with the majority ethnic Albanian population at odds with a Serb minority determined to keep control over this ancient Serb territory.

The killing in Kosovo this week of two ethnic Albanians loyal to the Serb state and the wounding of a third, and the attempted murder of the dean of the University of Pristina, Radivoje Papovic, are important factors here. No one has offered an official report on who was behind the crimes, but an ominous tactic can be seen emerging.

On January 17, Mirjana Markovic -- Milosevic's wife and key political ally -- used an appearance on state television to hint at a link between the opposition in Belgrade and terrorists in Kosovo. She called the Zajedno opposition movement, which is leading the anti-Milosevic demonstrations, a threat to national security.

And the pro-Milosevic Socialist mayor of the Kosovo capital Pristina, referring to the latest incidents, said the crimes were committed by ethnic Albanian terrorists who had been given a signal by the Belgrade opposition.

The government's message on both domestic and international levels is clear. For domestic public opinion, it is an attempt to discredit the opposition coalition by alleging that Zajedno collaborates with the Albanian nationalists -- meaning it conspires against Serbia.

On the other hand, international public opinion is to be shown that the opposition is incompetent to control a potential source of conflict, since, the Socialists say, terrorism in Kosovo is escalating only because of the opposition demonstrations in the biggest Serbian cities.

Our correspondent says the use of the terror wave in Kosovo as an argument for new accusations against the opposition is tending to radicalize the overall situation in Serbia.

The opposition has flung back the same accusations against the government. One Zajedno leader, Vuk Draskovic, labelled Mrs Markovic's Yugoslav Left Coalition (JUL) a direct organizer of the Kosovo assassinations, and accused the government of passivity in dealing with the situation in that province.

Further straining the already tense situation is the announcement that a "Pan-Serbian Ecclesiastical and National Assembly" is to be held this coming weekend in Pristina. All the prominent intellectuals are invited, as well as the representatives of the Serbs from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

Some analysts view this meeting as a government ruse because of the number of participants who are members of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU) and who are known to be pro-Milosevic.

They warn that it was from Kosovo that Milosevic recently brought the biggest number of counter-protesters to Belgrade, some of them armed.

Others however take a different view of the planned assembly. They note that some opposition leaders are also attending, and they see it as a potential additional source of pressure on Milosevic and his government, along with the Church, the Army and several other national organizations.

Our correspondent says the way the assembly formulates its response to the current crisis in Serbia, and particularly the content of its final document, will show the true color of the meeting -- and whether Milosevic is capable of playing the national card again, this time against his own opposition.