Yugoslavia sanctions decision could be made Monday

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The Independent Online

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Friday that European Union sanctions against Yugsolvia could be lifted early next week.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Friday that European Union sanctions against Yugsolvia could be lifted early next week.

"If Vojislav Kostunica takes office over this weekend then sanctions against Serbia will go on Monday when the European foreign ministers meet," Mr Cook said in TV interviews with Sky News and BBC Breakfast.

He played down fears of Russian intervention, saying that Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov was heading to the country in support of Mr Kostunica.

"I rather think that Mr Ivanov is more likely to be going there to make contact with Mr Kostunica and to try to see how he can ensure he is not only the president elect but the president in fact of Yugoslavia."

Russia had endorsed the foundation of the war crimes tribunal which has indicted Milosevic as a war criminal.

Mr Cook said that there must be justice for the atrocities of the past decade if the long-hoped for reconciliation of the Balkans was to be achieved.

The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana confirmed that ministers would be considering lifting sanctions: "Monday ... a decision will be taken to begin the process," he told reporters.

The EU ministers gather Monday in Luxembourg for their regular monthly meeting.

At their last talks, just before Serbia's Sept. 24 elections, the EU ministers said sanctions would be lifted if the democratic opposition won. But the 15 nation-bloc has held off during the standoff since then as Milosevic demanded a runoff against opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica who secured most votes in the election.

The EU imposed a ban on oil exports, flight restrictions into Belgrade and other financial and political sanctions during the crackdown by Yugoslav troops in Kosovo which eventually provoked last year's NATO bombing campaign against Serbia.

The Union has been gradually relaxing the sanctions in response to requests from Serbian opposition figures. It has issued a temporary suspension of the commercial flight ban and exempted a "white list" of firms not connected to the Milosevic government from financial restrictions.

Officials at the European Commission said the EU's head office is already making the legal and technical preparations for lifting remaining sanctions as soon as ministers give the green light.

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