Serb economists urge West to aid road repairs

BELGRADE, Mar 7, 2000 -- (Reuters) Dissident Serb economists urged the European Union on Monday to continue sending aid to Serbia by switching focus from supplying heating oil to helping road repairs.

Economists from the G17plus group, which has helped coordinate the "Energy for Democracy" oil aid from the West, presented their plan to foreign diplomats based in Belgrade on Monday.

"'Energy for Democracy' will be successfully completed within several weeks, with fuel aid sent to 12 Serbian towns," Mladjan Dinkic, a leading member of the G17plus, told a news conference.

"As the spring nears, we'd like to continue cooperation and spread it to 'asphalt for democracy'. Serbian roads are full of holes," he said.

Dinkic said the program would involve imports of bitumen.

"The imported bitumen emulsion would be combined with locally produced material for local roads connecting towns and suburban areas. The projects would involve domestic workers."

Dinkic has said Norway had already agreed to contribute to DM 4 million needed to reconstruct the main street in the opposition-held town of Pirot in southeastern Serbia.

The G17plus group also urged support and assistance for 26 urban infrastructure projects, including reconstruction of water supplies, flood prevention and waste recycling systems, as well as aid to independent media.

"'Asphalt for democracy' is a very interesting idea," Sverre Bergh Johansen, head of the Norwegian embassy in Belgrade, told the same news conference.

He was speaking after a two-hour meeting with G17plus members, also attended by diplomats from Germany, Italy, France, Russia, Canada, Japan, Greece, Portugal, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungaria, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Macedonia.

"A few months ago in Kragujevac, local people asked for assistance to repair roads in some residential areas," he said adding that Norway had already financed reconstruction of a bridge there destroyed in last year's floods.

Western diplomats may be wary of embarking on new projects after its "Energy for Democracy" program hit a series of bureaucratic obstacles in its initial stages, although they insist these were later overcome.

The next project likely to be presented to diplomats will be "Light for Democracy" - to improve street lighting across Serbia.

The West has said it will not allow any reconstruction aid as long as President Slobodan Milosevic stays in power, but some states have been providing aid on bilateral basis to towns controlled by his political opponents.

Original article