Serb opposition seeks more aid from the West

BELGRADE, Jan 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbian opposition leaders will seek on Wednesday to convince Europe and the United States they have overcome their differences and persuade the West to back them up with more aid.

Dragoslav Avramovic, a former central bank governor and the icon of one wing of the splintered opposition, told a news conference it had three aid projects to discuss.

"We expect tomorrow's meeting to be on the level of experts and to clarify the steps to be taken, funds to be addressed and a deadline for effecting these projects," Avramovic said.

Avramovic and other opposition leaders will outline the projects in Budva, on the coast of Montenegro, to officials from the United States and European Union.

Officials from the smaller Yugoslav republic's pro-Western government are also due to take part in what will be the second round of discussions under a newly-formed trilateral commission meant to strengthen ties between the opposition and the West.

The talks follow what the opposition politicians, who are split into several competing groups, have called a landmark agreement between them to cooperate in their so far ineffectual campaign to oust Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Western officials, who are trying to isolate Milosevic with economic sanctions, have welcomed the January 10 agreement but made clear they want to see how it progresses.

"It's very positive, giving some hope," an EU official based in Belgrade said last week, asking not to be named.

"Of course, we've seen something similar in the past. We want to see the opposition cement together. We should not go overboard right now," he said.

Opposition seeks ammunition for propaganda war

The opposition politicians are keen to keep the focus on aid to help them counter government charges they are traitors whose links with the West have not helped ordinary Serbs.

"We are well aware that every meeting of this kind poses a threat to the opposition's public image," Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told the same news conference.

The first project outlined by Avramovic was a six-month plan to deliver heating oil to 23 Serbian towns, at a cost of DM 27 million ($14 million). Some of the proposed towns are controlled by the government.

The European Union launched fuel deliveries in November under a plan called Energy for Democracy, but only two towns, both run by Milosevic's foes, have so far received fuel.

The deliveries were initially held up by what the EU said were deliberate attempts at sabotage by Belgrade. They have since moved forward but more slowly than the opposition would like.

Avramovic said the second project aimed to distribute humanitarian parcels to the families in urgent need, initially in 13 towns and later throughout Serbia.

The third project was the "most ambitious", he said, adding that it should help about 40 percent of Serbia's pensioners.

"Pensioners with monthly income worth less than DM 50 ($26) would receive DM 60 ($32) every three months. The money would be paid in hard currency," he said.

If approved, the project would last two years and compensate for the fall in real value of pensions.

Djindjic said negotiations with the West were not easy.

"If you are not the legitimate negotiator, if you are not the government and if you lack the institutional support it is hard to get results in negotiating with international institutions," he said.

"It is a success that we are recognized as partners in negotiations and that we discuss issues in a professional way."

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