Public pressure made EU lift flight ban

BELGRADE, Feb 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia said on Tuesday the European Union had suspended its flight embargo against the Balkan state due to strong public and business pressure in its member states.

The Foreign Ministry said the move by EU foreign ministers on Monday showed the 15-nation bloc had finally realized sanctions hurt ordinary people the most.

In a statement carried by the official Tanjug news agency, it drew a clear line between the European Union and the United States, accusing Washington of being behind what it described as illegal and inhumane sanctions policies.

"The suspension of the flight ban is a result of pressures exerted by the European public, which has become prominent in the European Parliament and other EU bodies," it said.

The ministry said it had no details about the decision, but said it assumed the suspension meant the EU was reviving its bilateral ties with Yugoslavia.

EU ministers decided to lift for a six-month period a ban on flights, including those by the national carrier JAT, to ease lives of ordinary Serbs and boost Serbian opposition parties in their efforts to oust Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

They also agreed to tighten financial sanctions aimed at preventing Milosevic's regime from moving large amounts of cash through banks abroad. The Foreign Ministry did not comment on this aspect of Monday's EU decision.

Other EU sanctions, including an oil embargo and credit and investment ban, remain intact.

The Serbian opposition has welcomed the EU move, saying its policy of cooperation with the West was paying off.

The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry said European airlines and other companies had suffered massive losses due to the sanctions and wanted to restore business ties with Serbia.

"The Yugoslav market offers a potential of more than $350 million in annual earnings," it said. "More and more companies realise that they can no longer afford to pay the price for the EU's policy of sanctions dictated by the U.S. administration."

"We expect this pressure to grow towards a lifting of all sanctions, which are a non-civilized form of violating human rights," it said.

The ministry said Europe no longer wanted "to accept the U.S. policy of sanctions and aggression, being well aware that these were damaging, illegal and inhumane."

"Sanctions have always been an instrument of destabilization and equally anti-European, just like NATO's aggression on Yugoslavia, launched under the U.S. pressure," it said.

The ministry was referring to NATO's 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia last year to halt Belgrade's repression of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

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