The Nando Times - Western nations give YU opposition deadline to unite

BELGRADE (December 19, 1999) - U.S. and European Union governments have given Serbia's opposition leaders two months to streamline a joint strategy against the autocracy of President Slobodan Milosevic, a top opposition activist said Sunday.

Dragoslav Avramovic revealed the existence of the timeframe two days after he and others held talks with top U.S. and EU officials, on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting in Germany of the Group of Eight - the world's top industrialized democracies and Russia.

Avramovic said the two-month period, in which the opposition parties are expected to "define a platform about a joint political action," was presented to them by Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer.

"I don't know exactly why two months, but that was clearly stressed," said Avramovic, who is a nonpartisan, pro-democracy activist proposed by several leading opposition parties to head a transitional, post-Milosevic government. He did not reveal any conditions attached to the request from the Western governments.

In the meantime, he said, the industrialized democracies will continue and broaden humanitarian help to a number of municipalities in Serbia where local governments are run by the opposition.

Two main opposition factions are led by Zoran Djindjic, who heads the Democratic Party and a broader opposition group, Alliance for change, and Vuk Draskovic, head of Serbian Renewal Movement, the largest single opposition party.

Divisions in the opposition go back to years of rivalry between Djindjic and Draskovic. The last real chance to weaken Milosevic fell prey to those rivalries, with months of mass demonstrations in late 1996 and early 1997 against Milosevic petering out after the two split.

Avramovic said he hoped the recent demand by Western powers would result in long-sought unity.

Late Saturday, Draskovic's aide, Miladin Kovacevic, said that opposition parties should contest future elections in no more than two or three groups to successfully challenge Milosevic's ruling coalition of neo-communists and ultranationalists.

The opposition has been demanding free and fair elections. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said at the talks in Germany that such elections could open the way to easing of strict sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia as punishment for Milosevic's crackdown in Kosovo, defiance of NATO and earlier activities that fomented war in the Balkans.

However, a decision on such elections is up to Milosevic, who controls crucial levers of power in Serbia, the main republic of Yugoslav federation.

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