Yugoslavs can turn back on past - Albright

WASHINGTON, Aug 10, 2000 -- (Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on Wednesday that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would cheat in next month's elections but with motivation Yugoslavs could still decide their destiny.

During a break in talks with Croatian President Stipe Mesic, Albright said the elections scheduled for Sept. 24 would be a chance for Yugoslavia to turn its back on what she called "Milosevic's policies of isolation and ethnic hatred."

The United States sees Croatia, which turned to the West after the death of President Franjo Tudjman last year, as a model for Balkan countries breaking with the violent past.

"Croatia shows how a motivated population can have its destiny in its own hands and away from a corrupt and repressive regime," Albright said, speaking after Mesic awarded her the Badge of the Grand Order of Queen Jelena.

Albright has tried, so far without success, to persuade the Yugoslav opposition to Milosevic to unite behind a single candidate to improve their chances of defeating him.

On Wednesday she said, "In Yugoslavia the people will have the opportunity to choose freedom, prosperity and the West, and to turn their backs on Milosevic's policies of isolation and ethnic hatred.

"We know that Milosevic will cheat and he has already used violence and the suppression of the independent media to ensure that elections are not free and fair."

"The opposition has decided to contest the election because they believe that a democratic movement against the regime can emerge and can bring democracy to all of Yugoslavia."

Mesic, whose government has won credit for supporting the Dayton peace process in Bosnia and offering to let ethnic Serbs come back to the Krajina region, said it was in the country's interests to see displaced people return.

"We thereby assist the processes of democratization in Serbia because this will put a stop to the homogenization process in Serbia, based on the slogan that all the Serbs must live in a single state," he added.

But Croatia is in dire need of foreign investment and needs U.S. help to improve its armed forces, he added.

Albright said the Croatian award, which takes the form of a medallion on a sash, fulfilled one of her childhood dreams.

"As the daughter of a diplomat I used to pretend that I could wear sashes but I never dreamed that I could have a real one with stars, and one of this magnitude," she said.

Later on Wednesday Mesic and his Prime Minister, Ivica Racan, will have talks with President Bill Clinton.

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