EU convoy brings fuel to Serbs left in cold city starved heating fuel

FOURTEEN EUROPEAN Union trucks carrying badly needed heating fuel rumbled into the Serbian opposition stronghold of Nis yesterday, after being held up at the border for two weeks by Belgrade.

The 350 tons of fuel donated by the EU to Nis, the Yugoslav Republic's third-largest city, 235km (145 miles) south-east of Belgrade, were unloaded yesterday on a rare sunny day. One-third of the population of Nis, 75,000 people, had been without central heating for two days. The lorries had been stranded at the Yugoslav-Macedonian border since 24 November while Yugoslav customs kept raising new administrative obstacles, attracting the EU's censure.

Zoran Zivkovic, the mayor of Nis, said: "Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what changed their mind." He suggested that Belgrade's "inexplicable logic" meant that the Serbian authorities moved only "when it is too late or when grave consequences can be felt".

Mr Zivkovic said that Pirot, a town further south, was in an even more dire situation than Nis, as central heating had been cut off in parts of it for two weeks. The shipment to the two opposition-governed cities is part of the EU's Fuel for Democracy aid programme, devised after the end of the Kosovo air campaign.

Nis dipped into the Yugoslav Republic's so-called strategic reserves of heating fuel, which amount to about 2,000 tons, to help its residents with central heating to survive sub-zero temperatures while awaiting the EU delivery.

The head of the fuel plant was arrested and spent several days in prison until he was released after public demonstrations in Trg Pobede square, in the town centre. Using the republic's strategic reserves without the Serbian leadership's approval is against the law. Mr Zivkovic said they had no alternative.

Aleksandr Krstic, the deputy head of the local government, said that Belgrade's blockage of the EU convoy was "definitely political". Nis and Pirot are two of 15 Serbian towns and cities (representing almost half of the republic's 7.8 million population) run by the opposition. The elected officials are eager to present an alternative to the autocratic regime of President Slobodan Milosevic. The ruling coalition of Serbia is made up of Mr Milosevic's Socialists, the JUL of his wife, Mira Markovic, and the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj.

"We know that this is a symbolic amount of heating fuel for the time being," Mr Krstic said. "But it is important to know that this is just the beginning, and that Nis and Pirot are soon expecting the rest of 25,000 tons of fuel to keep the heating on during the winter." He said the EU's message to Nis was: "Europe does make a clear distinction between the ostracised regime of Serbia and the ordinary people who live here."

Analysts and local government officials said Belgrade hoped the lack of heating fuel would make residents turn to electric heaters, thereby causing the collapse of the electricity power supply system, hit by the Nato bombing. That would mean bakeries and milk production stopping, schools closing and public dissatisfaction. In such a situation, the argument goes, the Serbian central government would proclaim the Nis authorities incompetent and introduce direct rule.

"Luckily for us, the plan will not work," Milan, an engineer in Nis, said. "We are glad that the town did what was necessary for us, as we elected those people. We don't care much what Belgrade says."

A middle-aged woman who gave her name as Ljiljana said: "Frankly, people don't care if it was the EU who gave us the fuel or someone else. The main thing is having a warm home."

The Montenegrin Foreign Minister, Branko Perovic, is to be tried by a Naples court on charges of involvement in an international cigarette smuggling ring while an employee of the Yugoslav airline Jat, in Rome. The trial date is set for November 2000.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of English for this co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Service General Administrator

£16000 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance & IT Assistant

£20200 - £24800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Senior PHP Developer - Zend Framework

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This number one supplier of Coo...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea