Fresh sanctions against Belgrade as crisis deepens

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The Independent Online
THE escalating crisis in Kosovo was poised to dominate the discussions among the world's major powers in London which began last night, as Yugoslavia rejected international mediation in the crisis, and further sanctions were set to start against the Belgrade regime.

The formal setting was a meeting of foreign ministers ahead of next weekend's annual G8 summit, to be held in Birmingham. But the six G8 countries which make up the Contact Group - Italy, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and the United States - are convening separately to decide what further pressure to exert on President Slobodan Milosevic.

As matters stand, earlier sanctions - which include a freeze of Yugoslav foreign assets and a suspension of International Monetary Fund credits - are due to be joined today by a ban on foreign investment in Serbia, a step which the West believes could hit hard at Mr Milosevic's efforts to revive the struggling economy.

Yesterday, Belgrade formally turned down a mission by the Contact Group's appointed mediator, the former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, and the new curbs seem inevitable. Russia however will again not take part and Mr Milosevic, diplomats acknowledge, is likely to remain intransigent for a while yet. "We're going into this with our eyes open," a British diplomat said this week.

Other topics for the G8 include the Middle East, where Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, will be presenting a bleak assessment of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian talks, and the delicate negotiations over the shape of the permanent international criminal court under United Nations auspices, which should be set up this summer.

Nigeria will also be on the agenda. Ministers will condemn the continuing failure of the military government in Africa's largest country to restore democracy. But they will probably also examine further sanctions, including action against Nigeria's oil exports. No final decision, however, is expected.

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