ABC News
EU seen sending fuel to more towns in Serbia


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (Reuters) - The European Union is expected to send heating fuel to five more opposition-controlled towns in Serbia, where fuel shortages and power outages are worsening.

The EU launched its Energy for Democracy program two months ago, sending fuel to two towns run by opposition parties in a controversial experiment in politically targeted aid that has been fraught with problems.

Local newspapers Thursday quoted Serbian opposition economist Mladjan Dinkic as saying EU program was being expanded. He said EU-funded fuel would start arriving next month in the northern towns of Novi Sad, Subotica and Sombor and in Kragujevac and Kraljevo in central Serbia.

Last week, temperatures plunged well below zero across Serbia, where NATO air strikes last year crippled an economy that had been run down for years by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's internationally isolated regime.

The U.N. office in Belgrade coordinating humanitarian aid said there had been daily power outages of several hours in all major cities and that schools, due to restart next week, and hospitals were especially vulnerable to fuel shortages.

Michael Graham, chief European Commission representative in Belgrade, said Dinkic's statement was broadly correct, though the commission was not expected to reach a formal decision until next Wednesday.


Opposition leaders had wanted many more towns to be included in the program, but an EU official told Reuters in Brussels the commission did not have enough money or staff.

"There is also a question of the point at which we start to breach our own oil embargo," the official said.

The embargo has not stopped fuel flooding into Serbia from all of its neighbors -- none of them in the EU. Almost the only limit on fuel supplies is a shortage of funds.

Serbian opposition leaders and most EU members think the embargo should be dropped, but Britain and the Netherlands have blocked such a move, saying it would play into Milosevic's hands.

The Yugoslav government objected to the discriminatory nature of the fuel aid, which is designed to strengthen the opposition campaign to oust Milosevic.

After an initial flurry of bureaucratic obstacles, it gradually became easier to deliver the heating fuel.

The delays strengthened an official campaign to persuade ordinary people, who the opposition hopes will force Milosevic out through mass protests, that pro-Western opposition leaders were no help to them.

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