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Serbia: U.S. Won't Encourage Election Boycott

Washington, 13 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. is telling pro-democracy opposition parties in Serbia not to boycott next month's scheduled elections, but Washington is also telling the opposition that it will understand them if they should decide not to participate.

State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. recognizes that the decision whether to participate in the Serbian presidential and parliamentary elections is difficult.

Rubin said the U.S. believes that as the situation stands now, those elections are likely to be "grossly unfair."

He also said, however, that it wouldn't be right for the United States to advise Serbian opposition parties on an election boycott. He said "that is a choice that the individual political parties must make themselves. "

But Rubin added that it is also clear, "that electoral conditions in Serbia at this time are neither fully free nor fair."

"The opposition parties are denied equal access to the media, particularly radio and television," he said, and authorities have rigged electoral districts to favor the ruling Socialist Party.

In addition, Rubin said Serbia's refusal "to permit monitoring of the elections suggests that Belgrade has something to hide." He said the U.S. believes that monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should be given unrestricted access.

"If Belgrade is serious about building a legitimate democratic system," said Rubin, "it will extend an open invitation to the OSCE to allow observers and conduct an assessment."

The elections have been called for September 21. One pro-democracy group, the Serbian Renewal Party, says it will participate, but only if the government relaxes its control over state media and invites international observers.

Rubin says that generally, the U.S. favors the broadest participation in the political process. He says boycotts are not particularly effective tools for bringing about political change.

"So, we are not advocating a boycott," Rubin said. "We believe in participation in general, but we recognize that this is a tough call because of the extent of the subversion of the democratic process there. "

Rubin said the special U.S. envoy for the former Yugoslavia, Richard Holbrooke, and U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard made Washington's views on the subject of elections very clear to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade last week.

Rubin said the officials told Milosevic that "the support that the international community has for him will be determined by the democratic conditions in Serbia, and that he needs to allow monitors in, and he needs to give these opposition candidates a fair shot at the media. "

The spokesman added that neither Holbrooke nor Gelbard seemed optimistic about a positive response from Milosevic. "It doesn't appear that he is going to make fundamental changes," Rubin said of Milosevic.

The presidential election is to fill the post left vacant by Milosevic, who is now president of rump Yugoslavia.