Leading Article: Let us be generous in rebuilding Serbia

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The Independent Culture
FROM THE Treaty of Versailles to the inconclusive end of the Gulf war, vindictiveness in victory has backfired on the victors. The Nato powers should take heed of the warning issued yesterday by Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, not to punish the Serb people twice. They have suffered enough under Slobodan Milosevic, and should not be made to pay for his sins.

While Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have been right to take a firm line against providing Western money, which would only find its way into the Milosevic family bank accounts, they should be looking for ways to back up their insistence that Nato's quarrel was with Milosevic and not with the Serbian people.

Mr Annan was right, then, to ask for a broad definition of the humanitarian assistance which Nato leaders have promised, and to suggest that it should include restoring water and electricity supplies.

The lesson that should have been learnt from the unsuccessful attempts to weaken Saddam Hussein in Iraq after the Gulf war is that pulling the noose of sanctions too tight is counter-productive. Of course, the misery of the Iraqi population is Saddam's responsibility and his alone, as he refuses to sell oil for food as the UN will allow him to do. But what humanitarian medical aid is allowed into Iraq tends to be tightly controlled by Saddam and used to reward his base. If Westerners had been allowed to trade freely with Iraqis, it is possible that alternative sources of wealth, power and ideas would have been able to grow to challenge the dictator's grip on the country.

It is the same in Serbia. Openness and solidarity with the people who increasingly resent Milosevic's tyranny is the best way to break the psychology of defensive Serb nationalism. It is true that lasting peace cannot come to the Balkans, and that Serbia will do less well out of the so-called Marshall Plan for the region, until Milosevic departs the stage. And it seems curious to bomb one day and rebuild the next.

But the moment Kosovo was secured, everything changed, and now ways urgently need to be found to rebuild what is left of the republic of Yugoslavia - without money going through the Milosevic coffers.