NYT - November 6, 1999

Yugoslavs Reject US Proposal for Lifting Sanctions

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The Yugoslav government has dismissed a new American proposal for a partial suspension of sanctions in return for early elections. It says the offer would not be honored if the government of President Slobodan Milosevic was re-elected.

Seizing on the conditional nature of the American offer and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's insistence that Milosevic could not possibly win a fair election, government spokesmen and media outlets asserted that the Americans would recognize only a vote that the government lost.

After meeting some of Yugoslavia's democratic opposition leaders, Albright announced in Washington on Wednesday that the United States would suspend embargoes on oil deliveries and flights to Belgrade if Milosevic held early, free and fair elections. Clinton administration officials previously said that all sanctions would continue as long as Milosevic remained in power.

"I find it really, really, really hard to believe that Milosevic might win a free and fair election," she said. "If my grandmother had wheels she would be a bicycle." Senior American officials said that if an election was not free and fair -- essentially, one that the Milosevic coalition won -- then the sanctions would not be lifted.

Milosevic himself is not at risk in any possible election. He was elected by the Yugoslav Parliament for a four-year term that expires in 2001, though it is possible that a new Parliament might impeach him.

"For Americans, the only free and fair elections are those won by their lackeys," said the Yugoslav deputy prime minister, Vojislav Seselj. Ivica Dacic, the spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party, said, "Those who went to see the murderers of our children should know that they could not win here, not even if Madeleine Albright counted the votes."

On Thursday Milosevic himself referred contemptuously to the opposition leaders, praising the unity of "all citizens" in the struggle to rebuild the country. "The exceptions are so minor they are not worth mentioning," he said.

While the American policy shift was intended to boost the flagging opposition to Milosevic and keep it united behind the idea of early elections, Washington managed to create new tensions between opposition leaders, some of them said Friday.

Washington praised the unity of Milosevic's opponents, but the opposition is not united and is actually continuing to splinter.

And some European diplomats suggested that Washington's new strategy was also intended to keep the oil and flight embargoes, which most members of the European Union want to lift immediately. These sanctions were tied to the Kosovo conflict, which is over, the Europeans say. By tying their suspension to fair elections, Washington has tried to force the Europeans to keep the sanctions indefinitely.

While the opposition wants early elections on all levels -- local, Serbian and federal -- the Milosevic government is likely to legislate early voting next year only for local elections. Such a move could undermine and further split the opposition if some parties boycott an election and others take part.

The State Department welcomed leaders of the Alliance for Change, led by the Democratic Party leader, Zoran Djindjic, in a visit arranged by Freedom House, a human rights organization. But no one invited Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, the largest opposition party, and the man whose strategy of early elections Washington has now embraced after rejecting it for six months.

Djindjic, who faces criticism from colleagues who believe his strategy of daily rallies has hurt their party and nearly bankrupted it, went to Washington to shore up his credibility at home, party officials acknowledge. Djindjic is pressing the alliance members to run a single slate of candidates.

But his efforts have caused the Alliance for Change to splinter. Some parties, like the Social Democracy Party, led by former Gen. Vuk Obradovic, and Democratic Alternative, led by Nebojsa Covic, have left the alliance.

By granting this policy shift to Djindjic and Dragoslav Avramovic -- the 80-year-old candidate for prime minister for a transitional government that no one expects to be named -- Washington badly offended Draskovic.

Draskovic and Djindjic already despise each other. In an important local battle, Draskovic, who controls Belgrade and the city television station, Studio B, feels that Djindjic has been trying to embarrass him in the Belgrade City Council and even arrange for the Serbian Parliament to take over the city on an emergency basis.

Seselj, the deputy prime minister, and Milosevic's party have previously threatened Draskovic with criminal investigations of city business to keep him from organizing street protests calling for Milosevic's ouster.

Washington is putting great stock in an opinion poll done for the National Democratic Institute, an American organization, that many local pollsters think is wrong about the likely vote that the Alliance for Change would garner. Srdjan Bogasavljevic of the Strategic Marketing Media Research Institute here, one of the country's most reliable polling groups, says that his figures show Milosevic's party with about 20 percent of the likely Serbian vote, the Alliance for Change with about 16 percent (half what the American poll indicates), Draskovic's party with about 7 percent and Seselj's party with 5 percent.

The crucial figure, Bogasavljevic said, is the "don't knows," who represent 33 percent of the electorate, while another 14 percent say they won't vote at all. Of the "don't knows," Bogasavljevic said, most match the profile of Milosevic voters, and 71 percent of them watch the state television news.


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