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UN envoy says Milosevic getting stronger every day

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 1, 2000 -- (Reuters) Calling Croatia's new policies a fundamental shift in the Balkans, a senior UN official said Serbia now needed a democratic government before schisms in Europe and in Bosnia-Herzegovina could heal.

But Jacques Klein, the UN representative in Bosnia, gave a bleak assessment of the situation in Serbia, saying Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was becoming stronger each day, mainly because of foreign help to rebuild his damaged country.

"This is a man who has led the nation brilliantly back into the 19th century," Klein, an American, told a news conference on Tuesday after seeing Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Klein said foreign help had allowed Milosevic to beef up security forces and repair power grids and other utilities damaged by NATO during its 78-day bombing raid of Serbia last year because of Belgrade's crackdown in Kosovo.

"With the foreign assistance he's received, he is actually becoming stronger by the day," Klein said, adding that this was his personal view. Diplomats say Russia is helping in energy sources while China has extended some credits to Belgrade.

Serbs, Klein said, may dislike Milosevic for running down the economy but they also dislike the West for its bombing raids during the Kosovo crisis.

Milosevic, therefore, had no real opponents. The country's splintered opposition had not been able to articulate a vision for a Serbia in Europe or make its voice heard on other major issues, Klein said.

"My own view is that this whole region will not be stable until we have a democratic government in Belgrade," he said.

"Until Serbia is re-integrated into Europe, until Serbia has a democratic government and moves into the direction that Croatia is moving now, the region will remain perennially unstable," Klein added.

He hailed Croatia's recent presidential election, won by Stipe Mesic, as "a dramatic step" towards solving the crises in the Balkans.

Klein said he had always believed that until Zagreb and Belgrade had changed governments "much of what we do in Bosnia-Herzegovina is problematic."

"As Croatia moves into Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina moves with it," he said.

Klein said Prime Minister Ivica Racan had given all the right signals to hard-line Croats in Bosnia, making clear Zagreb would be a "godfather" for religious, cultural and education affairs but not for partition.

In comparison the government of the late president Franjo Tudjman, was marked by "obfuscation, delay, avoidance and fantasies of partition" in Bosnia.

Klein said the new Zagreb government now faced an economic mess engineered by its predecessor, with the country nearly bankrupt because of state industries sold off to cronies.

But he said the country's Adriatic Coast "is a gold mine," ripe for investment.

Klein also said the European Union and other nations which offered a "stability pact" for reconstruction in the Balkans had to have a vision of what the region should look like in 10 years, a question now answered with "long, blank stares."

"If you start out and if you don't know where you are going, you are probably going to windup somewhere else," he told a news conference.




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