Liberation of Kosovo: You must aid Serbs, Annan tells the West

YUGOSLAVIA WILL be plunged into a fresh humanitarian crisis if the Western world does not give assistance to help rebuild the country's shattered infrastructure, the United Nations secretary-general warned yesterday.

Kofi Annan urged Nato powers to give wide-ranging support irrespective of whether Slobodan Milosevic stays in power. "We have to make sure that Serbs, who are in some ways victims of their own leadership, are not twice punished," he said on BBC television.

Describing the devastation caused by 11 weeks of Nato bombing that left electricity and water systems inoperable, he warned that the world could be faced with another refugee crisis. "I hope we are going to define the humanitarian assistance broadly enough to include electricity repairs and water which are life-sustaining. Come winter," he warned, "if [the Serb people] have no heat, they may also be on the move."

According to Western plans, only the Yugoslav province of Kosovo will benefit from billions of dollars of reconstruction relief, while Serbia will receive just "humanitarian" aid to relieve the damage inflicted by Nato's 78-day bombing campaign. At their summit in Cologne which finished last weekend, opinions among G8 leaders - the heads of the world's most powerful nations - were divided over how far the relief should go.

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, argued that relief should be limited to areas such as restoring power and heating to hospitals while Mr Milosevic is still in power.

The US President, Bill Clinton, has said that "not a penny" should be spent on restoring Serbian infrastructure such as bridges until the current regime is ended, because any assistance would help keep him in power.

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