Greek minister on controversial Serbia visit

Friday, 8 September, 2000

The United States has described as unfortunate a meeting in Belgrade on Thursday between Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic - who has been indicted by an international tribunal for war crimes.
During meetings with Yugoslav officials, Mr Papandreou said free and fair presidential, parliamentary and local elections on 24 September would be a very important first step towards restoring ties with the European Union.
Following the meeting with the Greek foreign minister, Mr Milosevic was defiant. He denounced what he called the West's "shameful policies of pressure and blackmail" on his country.
Mr Papandreou is the most senior official from a Nato country to visit Belgrade since the alliance's bombing campaign during last year's Kosovo crisis.

Joining Europe
The Greek foreign minister says that he passed on the message to Mr Milosevic that only an open and democratic Serbian society would be included into the larger European family.
He said he came as a friend, able to speak some very important truths.
Mr Papandreou's message carries great importance in Serbia, where Greece is considered an ally which backed Belgrade even during the Nato air strikes last year.

Opposition meeting
Mr Papandreou also met opposition presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica.
The Greek foreign minister was also due to meet four activists from the Otpor student opposition movement at a diplomatic reception.
The activists were detained but later released when Mr Papandreou made an official complaint.
Otpor headquarters were last week raided by police, who removed computers and election publicity material.
Along with Washington's disapproval of Mr Papandreou's trip, some European allies may be uneasy about the inclusion of talks with Mr Milosevic in the three-day visit.

EU divisions
Athens has portrayed the trip as part of a Greek initiative to help boost regional stability.
Greek sources have reported that the large majority of EU countries backed Mr Papandreou's visit. This formulation is being viewed as a diplomatic way of saying that several others were strongly opposed to it.
BBC south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos says the EU countries are divided over how to deal with Yugoslavia in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict.
He says the consensus for the moment is to continue with the policy of isolating the Yugoslav authorities, while engaging in a dialogue with the opposition.
And that policy certainly includes an informal ban on meetings with leaders who have been indicted for war crimes by the UN Tribunal in the Hague.

Original article