Easing of sanctions buoys up Milosevic

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The Independent Online
AN AEROFLOT airliner carrying Vitaly Churkin, the Russian special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, touched down at Belgrade to a ripple of applause yesterday, the first tangible sign of the UN's decision to relax sanctions against Serbia following Belgrade's apparent abandonment of its clients in Bosnia.

This reward for the two- month blockade of the Bosnian Serbs was hailed by the official Serbian media as the beginning of the end of the embargo and of international isolation. The Russian plane returned to Moscow last night for the first commercial flight out of Yugoslavia since May 1992.

'It's very exciting that these sanctions have come to be lifted,' said Risto Bukvic, a legal consultant checking in for the Moscow flight. 'I'm very, very keen on the President's platform, that peace is inevitable.' His travelling companion, Aleksandr Vojnovic, the designer of the airport terminal, was off on a business trip to Siberia. 'My life is much easier now,' he said. The flight to Moscow takes less than three hours. Until now, the journey involved a six-hour drive to Budapest, plus a wait at the border of up to 12 hours.'

Mr Churkin, who disembarked in the glare of television lights, was greeted by Obilic, a well-known Serbian choir that was forced to break off a foreign tour when sanctions were imposed but which is hoping to return to the international stage now. Mr Churkin spoke of new efforts on behalf of peace and praised the 'change of policy and new attitude of people in Belgrade'. It should be accompanied, he added, 'by the continuation of the process of suspension and lifting of sanctions'. He was to meet Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, last night for talks on the Bosnian conflict.

Although the limited easing of sanctions will bring few economic gains, it is a significant victory for Mr Milosevic, the architect of the Bosnian war, who has re-positioned himself as peace-maker.

'Psychologically it's very important; first for domestic public opinion, because you can say sanctions are over, and also over the psychology of the mechanism of sanctions,' said Bratislav Grubacic, a political analyst in Belgrade. 'Milosevic has managed to change the course of international policy.'

Following the Bosnian Serb leadership's rejection of the Contact Group peace plan for Bosnia, Mr Milosevic imposed a blockade on his rebellious proteges, in an attempt to force them to a deal. It has not worked so far, but the UN and the Contact Group nations - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - have given Mr Milosevic credit for trying.

Scepticism remains in Washington over the blockade, and among some UN officials. The sanctions can be reimposed in 100 days if international monitors rule that the embargo is a sham.