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Qaddafi's Serbian TV Interview Result Of Close Belgrade-Tripoli Ties

Zeljko Mitrovic, the owner of Serbia's Pink TV in undated photo
Zeljko Mitrovic, the owner of Serbia's Pink TV in undated photo
Embattled Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's choice of a private Serbian television station for an exclusive interview highlights the longtime close relations between Belgrade and Tripoli, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

Qaddafi gave an interview to commercial television station Pink via telephone on February 27, just hours after the UN Security Council voted to impose sanctions against him, his family, and close aides for his forces' violent suppression of opposition protesters.

In the interview with Pink, Qaddafi rejected the accusations.

After the breakup of Yugoslavia -- one of the leaders of the nonaligned movement of countries in which Libya also was active -- Qaddafi remained a rare friend of the regime of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s.

Zoran Lilic, who was Yugoslav prime minister during that time, flew to Tripoli over the weekend to secure the evacuation of Serbian workers.

Some Balkan media reported that Pink got the interview thanks to Lilic's visit and the close ties of several Serbian businesses and politicians to Qaddafi's regime. Most business links are in the defense, construction, and engineering sectors.

Serbia's government has been criticized at home for failing to join worldwide condemnation of the violent suppression of the popular uprising in Libya.

"We have very good relations with Libya, including a large trade exchange, especially in the military sector, primarily weapons and equipment. We export a lot to Libya. We have signed many trade agreements with Libya," Zoran Dragisic, a security analyst from Belgrade, told RFE/RL.

Serbian President Boris Tadic has also flown to Tripoli several times since he was first elected in 2004, and has been given state awards by Qaddafi. Several other Serbian officials have also visited Libya in recent years.

The Serbian government rejected media reports last week that Serbs had piloted planes that reportedly bombed protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi. Qaddafi said in his interview with Pink that "the Arab media tried to bribe [the Serbs] to say that they bombed civilians."

The Serbian Defense Ministry has suspended all cooperation with its Libyan counterpart since the unrest began earlier this month.

"In the last two to three years Serbia has exposed herself to great security risks with the export of weapons and [military] equipment to controversial regimes," Jelena Milic of the Belgrade-based Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies told RFE/RL.

"But in the Serbian public it is absolutely unacceptable to open a discussion about how many problems this revolt causes for Serbia, not only economically but also in the terms of security," she said.