Milosevic rivals in US for talks on sanctions

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SERBIAN OPPOSITION leaders campaigning for the ousting of President Slobodan Milosevic are due in Washington today for talks with American officials.

The seven leaders of an umbrella group, Alliance for Change, are pressing for the lifting of international sanctions against Serbia, which they say have served only to cement the power of the Milosevic regime. Zoran Djindjic, an Alliance for Change leader, recently argued that Mr Milosevic "would not score many political points if the sanctions were lifted and people lived more easily".

Mr Djindjic believes ordinary Serbs are suffering from the effects of the sanctions, while the privileged ruling classes around the President actually benefit from them.

Analysts say the strict ban on oil and gas imports when Belgrade was hit by UN sanctions between 1992 and 1995 turned Mr Milosevic's aides into millionaires because of their control of the black market for fuel. With a harsh Balkan winter ahead, it seems likely that ordinary Serbs will be preoccupied with a fight for survival rather than rising up against the President.

The year-long ban on flights to and from Belgrade and the regime's isolation since the Kosovo conflict began are thought to be taking their toll among the middle classes and educated Serbians. The West has also barred Yugoslavia from access to international financial organisations and foreign investments. And the Serbian people tend to blame the West, not Mr Milosevic, for their shortcomings.

In a rare show of solidarity, Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, the main opposition party, joined the Alliance for Change in calling for sanctions to be lifted.