Global Policy Forum

US Urged to Remove Sanctions on Yugoslavia


By William Drozdiak

Washington Post
October 26, 1999

Opponents of Milosevic Warn That Embargo Helps the Government

Belgrade - Serbia's political opposition urged the United States on Monday to remove sanctions against Yugoslavia, warning that punitive measures such as an embargo on heating oil were harming ordinary citizens and helping to entrench President Slobodan Milosevic in power.

The appeal, delivered during two days of meetings in Budapest with the US special Balkans envoy, James Dobbins, sought to persuade the Americans that the broad range of economic sanctions imposed by the Western allies were actually serving Mr. Milosevic's purposes by allowing him to blame the outside world for the hardships faced by 10 million Serbs.

France, Germany and other European Union countries support the idea of removing a ban on commercial air travel and restoring food, medical and fuel supplies - provided that ''targeted sanctions'' aimed at Mr. Milosevic and his cronies are sustained. A list of those Serbs linked to the Yugoslav ruling clique who are banned from getting visas to nearly all Western nations may soon be doubled in size to more than 600 people.

But the United States, fearful that Mr. Milosevic would use any opening to pry apart the united Western front against him, has refused to go along with any revision that could be construed as softening the sanctions. US officials say they are convinced that, given the venomous personal rivalries among Serbian opposition leaders, the only hope of ousting Mr. Milosevic may lie with a massive popular uprising caused by severe deprivation this winter.

''We don't really understand why the Americans are so insistent on these sanctions,'' said Milan Protic, a leader in the opposition bloc known as Alliance for Change. ''There is a serious danger they will backfire by making it a lot easier for Milosevic to stay in power.''

Serbian opposition groups want the immediate resumption of commercial air travel connections to Belgrade and basic humanitarian aid, especially fuel oil. They say that unless Serbian civilians receive urgent relief from the allies, Mr. Milosevic will continue to stir up public resentment against the West - especially now that Russia, despite its own economic difficulties, has started natural gas deliveries with the approach of winter. ''The consistent position of all the opposition of Yugoslavia is that the sanctions really are not removing Milosevic,'' said the former Prime Minister Milan Panic. ''The humanitarian suffering of people cannot ever justify economic sanctions. Mr. Milosevic must be removed by some other means.''

Mr. Panic said Yugoslavia also needed ''massive assistance'' to rebuild bridges across the Danube that were destroyed during NATO's 78-day bombing campaign. Austria and Hungary have offered to start clearing the debris, which has obstructed commercial traffic and caused economic damage to those countries that depend on the river as a major trading channel.

Zoran Djindjic, head of Serbia's Democratic Party who has been staging nightly protest marches with the ostensible goal of forcing Mr. Milosevic to surrender his grip on power, said the time had come for a major change in strategy. He proposed that the West offer to lift sanctions as soon as free and fair elections are held in Serbia, regardless of the winner. ''We all think this is now the right way to go,'' Mr. Djindjic said. ''The opposition alliance is united behind this idea, and so are the major European allies. Only the United States is against it, because the Americans seem to think lifting sanctions would send the wrong message to Milosevic.''

Mr. Djindjic is locked in a vicious power struggle with Vuk Draskovic, the mercurial head of the Serbian Renewal Movement, for leadership of the opposition drive to bring down Mr. Milosevic. Mr. Draskovic has refused to join the protest rallies and declined to meet even separately with Mr. Dobbins.

Both men, however, insist that sanctions are hurting the cause of the anti-Milosevic opposition and have expressed exasperation with the United States for its refusal to ease the economic punishment being inflicted on ordinary Serbs. They argue that such steps are necessary to vindicate contacts with the West at a time when Mr. Milosevic is branding them as traitors who betray the most fundamental interests of the Serbian people.

In a recent speech, Mr. Milosevic railed against his rivals as those who ''take their marching orders from NATO and are trying to finish the damage started by NATO bombs.''

More Information on the Sanctions in the Case of Former Yugoslavia

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