CEOL
YU raps US over office to 'run' opposition

BELGRADE, Aug 18, 2000 -- (Reuters) A senior Yugoslav government official accused the United States on Thursday of waging more aggression on the Balkan state by opening an office in Budapest that he said was designed to "run" the Serbian opposition.

"The U.S. State Department issued a statement ... saying that they are setting up a special office in Budapest, headed by William Montgomery, to run the Serbian opposition," Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic told a news conference.

Montgomery, the U.S. ambassador to Croatia, will head the office as charge d'affaires.

Belgrade broke off diplomatic ties with the United States and three other Western countries last year at the start of NATO's 11-week air campaign against Yugoslavia.

According to a Washington press briefing published on the State Department website, Montgomery will deal "solely with issues relating to Yugoslavia".

He will be working with the Serbian democratic opposition until September elections and "addressing a full range of issues related to our long-term goal of advancing democracy in Serbia".

But Sainovic, also a senior official in Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, said the office was part of a U.S. effort to gain control over Yugoslavia by assisting opposition parties in the run-up to the September 24 vote for Yugoslav president, parliament and local governments.

"That (the office) is one more link in a chain called 'How to Conquer Yugoslavia'. This is the battle for Yugoslavia and that is why the (September) elections are an important element of the battle," he said.

But Milosevic's opponents, regularly blasted by state media for cultivating contacts with the West after NATO's 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia that halted a Serbian military crackdown on Kosovo Albanians, were not enchanted by the U.S. move either.

Vojislav Kostunica, chosen by 15 Serbian opposition parties as their joint candidate to challenge Milosevic in the September vote, said on Wednesday the opening of the office was an "American kiss of death to the democratic forces of Serbia.

"It takes a great degree of arrogance...to say that promoting democracy in Serbia is a long-term U.S. goal. Democracy in Serbia is Serbia's goal and no one else is entitled to it ... The real U.S. goal is obviously a further break-up of Yugoslavia. Milosevic's victory directly leads to it," he said.

Both Milosevic's ruling coalition of socialists, neo-communists and ultra-nationalists and the opposition parties say that the coming elections will be historic.

For Milosevic, the polls are a chance to cement power for many more years.

The opposition hopes to topple the Serbian strongman.



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