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Eastern Europe: Former Yugoslavia, Albania, Belarus Top EU's Agenda

Brussels, 28 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - European Union Foreign Ministers are gathering in Luxembourg for two days of meetings at which relations with Eastern Europe will be prominent on the agenda.

On the first day, Tuesday, April 29, decisions are expected which concern at least two republics of the former Yugoslavia as well as Belarus and Albania.

The most controversial item may be the proposal - supported by several EU governments - to restore what are called "autonomous trade preferences" to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro).

A spokesman for the current EU presidency country, the Netherlands, says the proposal will probably be adopted. But not even those countries supporting the move will be doing so - as the spokesman put it - with "joy or enthusiasm." He explained that the EU regards Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic as still not deserving any vote of confidence. On the other hand, several Western European capitals fear that the people of Serbia and Montenegro could face greater economic hardship - even greater than at present, unless there is some help from outside soon. "Look at the example of Albania," the spokesman said.

The proposal would amount to a virtual restoration of conditions before the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Trade preferences accorded to the former Federation of Yugoslavia before 1992 already have been restored by the EU to Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Croatia.

If the trade preferences decision goes as expected, our Brussels correspondent reports the EU is likely to accompany it with a declaration, making it clear that future relations with Belgrade will be linked to specific progress toward democracy, and specific progress on resolving the Kosovo dispute. Belgrade withdrew the autonomous status of the Kosovo region, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

EU Foreign Ministers are also expected to discuss another donors conference to help victims of the wars in former Yugoslavia. Such a conference is now scheduled for late next month. Ministers might also discuss a successor to Carl Bildt, the EU's High Representative for the civilian reconstruction effort in former Yugoslavia.

EU Foreign Ministers are due to take time out from their session tomorrow to participate in a ceremony signing cooperation agreements with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

On Albania, EU Ministers are to discuss the implementation of recommendations of its advisory mission, including coordinating its economic aid and security elements, with support for the electoral process.

Ministers might also consider an Italian proposal to have a donor's conference on Albania - and, also, the idea of adding a police element to the advisory mission - perhaps in association with the Western European Union and the Council of Europe. .

On Belarus, the EU ministers are reported to have divided feelings. They're unhappy about President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's repressive measures, but our correspondent reports the Ministers might formally welcome a pledge by Belarus to enter into discussion on respect for human rights, and media independence.