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Yugoslavia: U.S. Announces Plan To Assist Serbian Opposition

The United States has announced a new plan designed to bolster the Serbian opposition. RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams reports on highlights of the plan, which was unveiled during a Washington visit by a delegation of the democratic Serbian opposition.

Washington, 4 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright yesterday announced a five-point plan that she said would underscore Serbian opposition efforts to achieve a free Serbia and free Yugoslavia.

RFE/RL's correspondent reports Albright introduced the steps after what she called "inspiring" talks at the State Department with eight members of Serbia's democratic opposition. Flanked by members of the opposition "Alliance for Change," Albright told reporters the plan would help the opposition bring about much needed political change in Yugoslavia.

The five points include U.S. participation in a European Union (EU) program to provide fuel oil for winter heating to the opposition-controlled Serb cities of Nis and Pirot. Albright also held out the possibility of further fuel aid to other municipalities, provided the U.S. was satisfied with the first installation.

"We will be watching closely to see if the assistance actually gets to the intended recipients in the manner proposed. And we want to make clear that our support for this project comes at the specific request of Serbia's democratic leaders. It is they -- not the regime in Belgrade -- who will deserve credit for each and every energy delivery that is made."

The United States had previously said it was worried that any energy supplies would strengthen the Belgrade authorities of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime, allowing them to have more fuel to distribute elsewhere.

The U.S. also has long linked an end to sanctions against Yugoslavia -- imposed after Serb military assaults on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo -- to the departure from power of Milosevic.

The U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign to remove Serb forces from Kosovo earlier this year destroyed most of the nation's oil-refining capacity, but Milosevic remained in power.

A senior State Department official later sought to convey that the U.S. was not changing its policy by way of yesterday's announcement, but merely providing the opposition with a "refinement" that could help bring about a much desired change in Yugoslavia.

Outlining the other elements of the plan, Albright said the U.S. also supported holding free and fair elections by early next year; suspending an airline flight ban, as soon as free elections are held; supporting a three-party working group to include the democratic opposition, EU and U.S.; and possibly increasing aid after free elections are held and a new government is in place.

Attempts to unseat Milosevic have been stymied in the past by divisions among his political opponents. But Albright said it was a new, united opposition that she met in Washington.

"They have made quite clear that they understand that their strength comes from working together and from having an alliance where they support each other and are able to reach out to the Serbian population."

Albright was later asked what the United States would do about the plan, if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic were to win early elections. She said she would find that scenario "really hard to believe."

A senior State Department official said the possibility of a Milosevic win was so hypothetical that it should not impede policy. The official added that free and fair elections is something all the people of Serbia can galvanize around and that, he said, makes a big difference to the Serbian opposition.

For its part, the Serbian opposition expressed great pleasure with the results of their five-day visit thus far, in an interview with RFE/RL's Serbian correspondent.

The delegation includes Dragoslav Avramovic, Prime Ministerial candidate of the Alliance for Change, Zoran Djindjic, President of the Democratic Party, Velimer Ilic, the Mayor of Cacak, Milan Protic, Goran Svilanovic, President of the Civic Alliance of Serbia and Goran Zivkovic, Mayor of Nis. The democratic opposition will be in Washington through Friday and is still due to meet various Congressional, foreign policy, media and business leaders.