Serb opposition says EU policy supports Milosevic

BELGRADE, Jan 26, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia's opposition said on Tuesday the European Union move to postpone lifting of some sanctions against Yugoslavia in support of democratic forces in the country in fact helped the authorities.

"Governments that are against the suspension of sanctions are directly supporting the ruling regime that survives on an alleged EU wish to destroy the Serb people," a Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) official told a news conference.

SPO spokesman Ivan Kovacevic referred to a common phrase repeatedly voiced by ruling politicians and state media accusing the West of plotting against Serbia and its people.

Kovacevic added that the ruling partners, the neo-communist Yugoslav Left and the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radicals, were afraid of the lifting of sanctions. "An isolated Serbia suits them," he said.

The EU has been divided for months over easing sanctions on Yugoslavia, even though political opponents of President Slobodan Milosevic favor the ending of the oil embargo and an international flight ban.

On Monday, Britain and the Netherlands blocked moves by their 13 other EU partners to lift or ease sanctions against Yugoslavia. The EU's hardliners rejected even compromise proposals for a temporary, partial suspension of the embargo.

The United States also opposes any relaxation of the sanctions program, arguing this would benefit Milosevic.

The leader of a minor opposition Democratic Party of Serbia also accused the EU on Tuesday of playing into Milosevic's hands.

"EU supporting Yugoslav regime"

"By refusing to lift part of the sanctions, the EU proved its support for the Yugoslav regime in one way or the other," the independent Beta news agency quoted Vojislav Kostunica as saying.

"We can rely only on ourselves," Kostunica said of the opposition struggle for democracy.

Some opposition leaders had voiced hope that some sanctions would be lifted following their January 10 agreement on a joint anti-Milosevic strategy.

Democratic Party head Zoran Djindjic described the decision as regrettable. He said the EU had missed an opportunity to send a good signal to the general public in Serbia.

"The consequences (of the decision) are such that we didn't get a deserved credibility with our public. The decision did not help Milosevic directly, but it did not help us (the opposition) either," he told Reuters.

Djindjic added that he understood the timing was bad for any changes in the West.

"It's a question of their internal politics, it's the election year in the U.S. and the administration can't risk any serious change in its foreign policy."

But he said Serbia's opposition would work hard to persuade Britain and the Netherlands to soften their attitude towards sanctions.

Another moderate leader, the coordinator of the opposition Alliance for Change grouping, Vladan Batic, said the opposition should continue working together.

"I expect the lifting of sanctions will come as a recognition (of opposition efforts) at one of the following EU meetings in a couple of weeks," he told Reuters.

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