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YUGOSLAVIA: POWER CHANGES HANDS

Yugoslavia Must Make Good on Reforms, U.S. Says

October 07, 2000|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Despite almost giddy diplomatic euphoria over Slobodan Milosevic's political demise, the United States cautioned Friday that Yugoslavia still must act on several contentious issues before it will be fully embraced by the outside world.

The triumph of the democratic opposition led by President-elect Vojislav Kostunica sparked a wave of activity Friday. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pledged that the United States would lift sanctions "as soon as it's clear that Kostunica is in and Milosevic is out."

She also promised assistance from Washington and its European allies for reconstruction so that Yugoslavs "can have the normal life that the rest of the Balkans are beginning to have." The State Department also expects to quickly dispatch American diplomats back to Belgrade, possibly within a couple of days.

Yet the White House warned that changes required to meet criteria established by the outside world were far from complete. Yugoslavia is still in the midst of a historic transition, emphasized White House spokesman Jake Siewert.

Washington is concerned about how and when a new government will address a vast agenda of volatile issues, beginning with what to do with Milosevic, who is under indictment by an international tribunal for war crimes. Other issues range from the future of Montenegro and Kosovo to the status of hundreds of ethnic Albanians convicted of crimes who are widely seen by the outside world as political prisoners.

"Milosevic is toast, which is good for Yugoslavia, the region and the world," said a senior U.S. official involved in Balkans policy. "But there are still important issues on which we expect Belgrade to make significant progress--and which will be contentious--before Yugoslavia can be fully engaged and integrated into world institutions."

President Clinton on Friday heralded the people-power outpouring that ended Milosevic's rule, but he warned that not all sanctions may be lifted immediately.

"A dark cloud has lifted, and though tensions and challenges clearly remain, prospects for enduring stability in the Balkans have greatly improved," the president told reporters in a Rose Garden briefing.

"There are a lot of sanctions and a lot of layers of them. We should make an opening move here . . . that makes it clear that we support what has happened and [that] we intend to support them. What happens after that will have to be determined based on events within Serbia," Clinton said.

At the top of the list is the full transfer of power. The process is complicated by the fact that Kostunica is in charge of the federal structure, but many of the instruments of power, including guns and financial resources, are in the hands of the state government, which he doesn't control. Yugoslavia is made up of two republics, Serbia and Montenegro.

"We will need to do a little more work to ensure that Milosevic has relinquished power and that the democratically elected leader has assumed all the reins of the government there," spokesman Siewert said.

The White House said Friday that it would not support any deal giving Milosevic asylum. The former Yugoslav leader has to be held accountable for his crimes, Siewert added. The international community also wants other indicted war criminals to be extradited for trial, including two senior generals still serving in the army.

Also high on the list of outstanding problems is the future of Montenegro and Kosovo, a province of Serbia, both of which want to change their status. Kostunica, a fervent nationalist who condemned the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing of Yugoslavia in a dispute over Kosovo last year, and still has deep ties to Serb nationalists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, strongly favors keeping Yugoslavia in one centralized piece.

On Kosovo, the United States said it now expects Yugoslavia to honor U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, which calls for significant interim self-government for the province's people and a negotiated process to determine its final status. The majority of Kosovars want independence from Serbia.

The new government also must begin restructuring Yugoslavia's political and economic systems, a process that has been painful and unpopular in much healthier parts of Eastern Europe.

"For Kostunica, the big issue is establishing a democratic state where there was a kleptocracy," said James C. O'Brien, special advisor to the president and secretary of state for democracy in the Balkans. "That's a huge agenda that will affect every aspect of what happens next. Milosevic entangled the government with his party, so the new folks have to get control of state resources to establish a government, pay pensions, get factories working. There's no way to fully assess the hill they have to climb."

Western governments that could provide an economic lifeline to help bail out Belgrade may differ over how best to reform, say other experts.

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