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Yugoslavia: Rift In Serbia's Ruling DOS Coalition May Be Healed

A rift in Serbia's ruling coalition may be on the verge of being healed as Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's party is welcoming an offer to rejoin the Serbian government.

Prague, 15 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The current crisis was sparked in August, when Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) withdrew its ministers from the Serbian government after alleging that some members of the ruling coalition were linked to organized crime.

At the time, Kostunica announced that the DSS would exist outside the Serbian government but would otherwise continue to cooperate at all levels of power, including within the federal government. Meanwhile, the ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) -- which defeated former President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists in parliamentary and presidential elections in September 2000 -- remained a coalition of 18 parties.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and other ministers denounced Kostunica's allegations of criminal links as a smear campaign that Djindjic said undermined the country's credibility and slowed economic recovery.

Now, five months later, the wounds appear to be healing.

Djindjic says if an agreement can be reached between Kostunica's DSS and the 17 other parties in the ruling coalition, the DSS could have three ministers and a deputy prime minister in a reconstructed Serbian government.

Djindjic told reporters yesterday after a meeting of coalition leaders that Kostunica could resume chairing the Serbian parliament: "These were consultations within the DOS but not with the DSS, which means that this concerns a small reshuffling -- that is, of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry for Ecology, or [the department for the] management of natural resources, and [because] there is also a ministership without portfolio without the DSS. Alternatively, [there could be] a large reshuffling with three, shall we say, new ministries [the DSS] would get. They'd get back the deputy prime-ministership, with Velimir Ilic in the post. That's also possible. We will strive to open the gates to talks concerning increasing [the DSS's] participation."

Djindjic says he is aware of the DSS's alleged skepticism regarding the integrity of the country's police force and is willing to offer the party the post of general inspector of the police "to control police activities while representing the DSS."

But Djindjic says all of this depends on mutual agreement. It is not entirely clear what Djindjic will demand of the DSS. He nevertheless appears satisfied that a solution is in sight.

"I consider this to be a very fair concept. It has two elements. One is expanding the number of posts in the government and giving some ministerships to DSS. The other is giving them back the speakership of parliament so that DSS will again be, in its way, a party in power and not an opposition party," Djindjic said.

The deputy chairman of the DSS, Dragan Marsiscanin, welcomed Djindjic's offer to resolve the crisis.

"It's the first good signal that they are thinking about this issue and creating the possibility of achieving something through this agreement and not, least of all, increasing the number of ministerial posts. It's good that a signal has come from them (DOS), that they are changing their minds about the Democratic Party of Serbia," Marsiscanin said.

Marsiscanin, who made the remarks at a news conference in Belgrade yesterday, said the DSS is, above all, interested in fundamentally changing the way the government works and in a return to the DOS's original principles.

But he reiterated the DSS's opposition to restoring the autonomy of the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina prior to regulating the whole issue of regions in a new draft constitution, which he says his party will soon make public. Milosevic dissolved multi-ethnic Vojvodina's autonomous status, along with that of Kosovo, in 1989. A significant pro-autonomy movement in Vojvodina is demanding home-rule for the province.

Marsiscanin, reflecting Kostunica's views, wants a new constitution adopted before proceeding with any other changes.

"Promulgating a constitution and holding elections which will follow the ratification of the new constitution are predicated on a genuine, fundamental implementation of systemic reforms by the state," Marsiscanin said. "Without a new constitution as the foundation of a democratic state, of a state of law, there will be no real, essential, appropriate reforms which we are obliged to carry out."

Marsiscanin says passage of a new election law and the holding of new federal and republic-level elections are likely within a year.