Focus: War In Europe: `Parliament' talks of peace

In a town in central Serbia, 100 people meet secretly in a bomb shelter, calling upon the government to `save the lives of all citizens of Yugoslavia'
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The Independent Online
A newly formed peace movement in Central Serbia has called on President Slobodan Milosevic to end the war immediately as reports of discontent in several of the country's smaller towns continue to reach Belgrade.

The movement emerged last week in the town of Cacak, 90 miles south of Belgrade, when the town's mayor, Velimir Ilic, a longstanding critic of the president, inaugurated a "Citizens' Parliament", backing an end to bombing and the return of all refugees, in particular the Kosovar Albanians, to their homes.

The "parliament" held its first meeting on Tuesday in the cultural centre, attended by 100 people, mostly from the town's educated and professional classes. The following day police raided Mr Ilic's home, apparently in an attempt to take him for questioning. The mayor was not in, and is now in hiding.

Another meeting was held on Friday afternoon in spite of police warnings that the gathering was illegal because the movement has not been officially registered. The group, again numbering 100, met in a bomb shelter, where their presence could not be easily challenged because air raid sirens had sounded. In a crowded, smoky underground room, the meeting approved a letter to President Milosevic calling on him to "save the lives of all citizens of Yugoslavia". The "parliament" rejected government propaganda calling on Yugoslavs to resist to the last man.

Cacak, which has the reputation of being a business centre, has been repeatedly bombed by Nato, particularly the industrial area. A well-known domestic appliance factory, which had employed more than 10,000, has been destroyed, and four civilians were reportedly killed when Nato bombed a bridge near the town.

It is not known how much support the "Citizens' Parliament" enjoys in Cacak. Strong nationalist feelings have also been evident in recent weeks, with the destruction by rioters of a McDonald's restaurant in the town centre. The movement appears to be aimed more at achieving an end to the bombing than with the war in Kosovo. Most of the town's conscripts and reservists are serving in Montenegro, and the "Parliament" has called on them to respect the rights of the Montenegrin people and to obey military law.

There are unconfirmed reports of further unrest in the area of Krusevac, the town to which hundreds of deserters from Kosovo returned last week after demonstrations by the mothers of servicemen. This time, it is said, more than 100 members of a new contingent of conscripts from villages around the town are refusing orders to go to Kosovo, and have demonstrated in the town centre. They were reported to be negotiating with local authorities.

Other protests are said to have occurred in Racka, near Kosovo, by parents demanding the return of their sons from the province, and in the village of Paljevac, where almost the whole community is said to have turned out to make similar demands.

Army action against deserters has now been reported in one of the leading newspapers still being published, the pro-government Politika. The paper said a military court of the III Army Corps in Nis has jailed four deserters, three of whom had also committed theft.

One, a 34-year-old reservist, is said to have fled Kosovo by stealing a tractor from an Albanian family and driving it through the hills to avoid military roadblocks. Another, described as a 40-year-old volunteer, was found guilty of robbing an Albanian family of a video recorder, a telephone answering machine and a "quantity of gold". Both were sentenced to 18 months.

n Julian Manyon is special correspondent for ITN in Yugoslavia.