Belgrade seeks foreign policy initiative

BELGRADE, May 24, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia's isolated government sought to seize the diplomatic initiative from its opponents on Tuesday, saying relations with Russia and China were thriving and ties to the West could be restored.

The Foreign Ministry also said the government would press ahead with measures designed to stop what it called attempts to stir unease in Serbia, where political tensions have increased sharply over the past week.

Opponents of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said Tuesday that they had received an official invitation to visit Moscow on May 29. They want support from Belgrade's traditional ally in their struggle against the government, which has shut opposition media and made dozens of arrests in recent days.

Assistant Foreign Minister Nebojsa Vujovic declined comment on the proposed visit, which follows a Moscow trip by opposition Serb leaders from Kosovo and signs that Belgrade's other fellow-Orthodox ally, Greece, is also courting the opposition.

"This is a private matter and we are not using our diplomatic channels for private matters," he told a briefing. There was no immediate word from Moscow on the visit.

Vujovic said the government's good relations with Moscow had been proven by a recent visit there by Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic and Defence Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic.

He hailed Russia's decision, confirmed on Tuesday, to boycott the meeting of a council in charge of observing the 1995 Dayton peace accord that ended fighting in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Vujovic said Li Peng, the head of China's National People's Congress, would soon visit Belgrade, but did not say when.


The West has cut almost all official links with Belgrade since last year's conflict over Kosovo, during which a United Nations tribunal indicted Milosevic and four aides for alleged war crimes committed in the province by Serb forces.

Moscow played a key role in persuading Milosevic to allow international peacekeepers into Kosovo and thereby end almost three months of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

Opposition leaders hope Russia will now help them to oust the Serb strongman.

"It looks as if besides the fight for democracy in the squares, streets and in the free press, a quiet and invisible but just as fierce fight is being waged on the diplomatic field," Predrag Simic, adviser to opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, told Reuters.

In Moscow, Milosevic's brother Borislav, Belgrade's envoy to the Russian capital, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying he did not see anything serious or unnatural in Russia maintaining contacts with Serb opposition leaders.

Moscow would never support calls for the overthrow of the Yugoslav authorities, Interfax quoted the envoy as saying.

Belgrade has accused Western governments of using the Serbian opposition to foment tensions within Serbia, which dominates what remains of Yugoslavia, to oust Milosevic.

Vujovic said that the government was preparing to stop what it calls "terrorist activities" and the opposition calls legitimate dissent.

"There is an action going on initiated within the government structure to introduce legislation which would stop and prevent terrorist activities," Vujovic said, without elaborating.

Vujovic said that Yugoslavia was against Western governments, not people, and relations could improve if they dropped sanctions, compensated for the bombing and stopped interfering. Without that, he said, there could be no peace.

Original article