Panic vows to dismiss 'old guard'

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The Independent Online
MILAN PANIC, the Prime Minister of the rump Yugoslav state, vowed yesterday to dismiss all Serbian politicians identified with the war, saying they were liars and conmen.

Buoyed by the collapse of an attempt by opponents in the ruling Socialist Party to engineer his dismissal, Mr Panic said: 'I don't think we have to oust the old guard cruelly. We have to do it mercifully. But I am going to fire the old guard and replace them with new, young people. I am going on the offensive, and I am going to attack them ferociously with the most lethal weapon against them - truth.'

In Bosnia, a United Nations relief convoy took food and medical supplies from Sarajevo to the Muslim town of Gorazde, where the Serbs say they began to lift a five-month-long siege this week.

The convoy was only the second to get through to Gorazde since the Bosnian war broke out in April. The town's population has been swollen by an influx of refugees, and there are severe shortages of electricity and basic goods.

Mr Panic named the Yugoslav Foreign Minister, Vladislav Jovanovic, as one of those he had in his sights. Referring to his diplomatic initiatives at last week's London conference, he added: 'I am proud of what I have done in London, and the people (in power) over here must realise that the lies are over, the jokes are over, and there has been enough conning.'

Mr Panic, a Serbian-born Californian businessman, took up his post two months ago and has increasingly distanced himself from the policies of the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, in Croatia, Bosnia and the Serbian provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. He appeared to score an important success on Wednesday when leaders of the Socialist (ex-Communist) Party told their deputies not to back a parliamentary motion of no-confidence against him.

Parliament is still expected to debate the no-confidence motion today, but Mr Panic clearly senses that he has the upper hand. His staff said the public had sent thousands of messages of support to Mr Panic since he appeared on television on Tuesday evening to explain how he would extract Yugoslavia from crisis.

As Mr Panic was speaking in Belgrade, the international community launched its most ambitious attempt yet to end the 15-month-old war by opening a new peace conference in Geneva under sponsored by the UN and EC. The UN envoy, Cyrus Vance, said he regarded ending the Bosnian war and ensuring humanitarian supplies as the conference's two priorities.

Mr Vance is co-chairing the conference with Lord Owen, the former foreign secretary. Lord Owen cautioned against hopes of immediate progress, saying: 'There have been many hopes raised over the last year, many feelings of breakthroughs.'

Mr Vance succeeded in halting the war in Croatia earlier this year, but one-quarter of Croatia's territory is still under Serbian control in UN-protected zones. For its part, Bosnia has been virtually partitioned between Serbian and Croatian forces, with the Serbs taking the lion's share of territory.

The conference is setting up six expert groups to deal with Bosnia, ethnic minorities, humanitarian issues, confidence-building measures, economic problems and legal questions concerning the succession to the old Yugoslav state. The aim is to build on principles established at last week's London meeting. These include an agreement not to alter borders unless by mutual consent, and an end to 'ethnic cleansing', or the forced expulsion of nationalities to create ethnically pure areas.

(Photograph omitted)