Serb opposition leader sees EU sanctions move soon

BELGRADE, Feb 7, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Serbian opposition leader said on Sunday he believed the European Union would soon start easing sanctions against Yugoslavia.

Vladan Batic, coordinator of the Alliance for Change group, said Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini told an opposition delegation last week that the next meeting of EU foreign ministers would make a step forward on the issue.

"Dini told us the process of easing sanctions would be initiated at the February 14 meeting of EU ministers," Batic told a news conference.

"He explicitly said it would be done as an act of goodwill towards the united Serbian opposition," he said.

Serbia has been subject to various sanctions since 1992, first for its role in the 1992-1995 war in neighboring Bosnia and later over Belgrade's repression in the southern province of Kosovo.

The sanctions keep Yugoslavia, which consists of Serbia and Montenegro, away from financial bodies and foreign capital markets, ban investments, flights and crude oil deliveries.

The EU has been divided on the issue for months, even though domestic opponents of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic argue that the sanctions help keep him in power.

At a foreign ministers' meeting last month, Britain and the Netherlands blocked moves by their 13 EU partners to lift or ease the sanctions.

Italy has repeatedly called for the lifting of the sanctions against ordinary Serbs, especially those involving air transport and the supply of natural gas.

Dini said in a statement issued on Friday after a meeting with Batic that the EU was reviewing sanctions against Yugoslavia affecting ordinary people and urged Serb opposition parties to stay united.

He welcomed a January 10 decision by the fragmented Serb opposition to adopt a common platform, saying it would help speed up democratization in the Balkan region.

Batic said a decision to lift or ease the sanctions would be "the first great success of the democratic opposition in Serbia in the recent past."

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