Liberation Of Kosovo: Hardline third of Milosevic cabinet quit over `occupation'

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The Independent Online
SERBIA'S HARDLINE nationalists resigned from the government yesterday, accusing Slobodan Milosevic's regime of treason for abandoning the historically resonant province of Kosovo. The Radical Party leader, Vojislav Seselj, said that he and his colleagues would quit the administration immediately. The Radicals have two deputy prime ministers and hold 13 of the 36 ministerial portfolios in the Serbian cabinet.

"Since Kosovo is under occupation, we have no motive to stay put in the government," Mr Seselj said at a meeting in his Belgrade party headquarters. The Serbian Trade Minister, Zoran Krasic, said: "We have been deceived by our coalition partners. Where there are no Yugoslav troops and no Serb police, there is no state sovereignty."

The departure of the Radicals, the most militant nationalists in the Serbian gov- ernment, was expected as soon as Belgrade signed the peace agreement with Nato, in effect handing over the administration of Kosovo to the UN and to international peace-keepers. Mr Seselj believes in the concept of a Greater Serbia and is a determined opponent of the West, which he sees as the friend of secessionist Croats, Bosnians and Albanians.

His party sent paramilitary formations to fight on the side of Serbs in the ethnic wars in Croatia and Bosnia from 1991 to 1995. Their withdrawal from his government will not immediately shake Mr Milosevic's regime, as his Socialist party can find other political allies and is not in danger of losing its majority in parliament. Mr Milosevic yesterday made a rare appearance in northern Serbia, launching a reconstruction programme after 11 weeks of Nato air strikes. "The hardest 11 weeks since the Second World War are behind us," he told a cheering crowd of some 5,000 in Novi Sad beside one of several of the city's bridges over the Danube destroyed during air strikes by alliance aircraft.

"Bridges connect people. Therefore it is both logical and justified to start rebuilding our country from here," Mr Milosevic said.