Serbia's propaganda machine falls silent

THE great Belgrade propaganda machine, infamous for fanning the flames of Serbian nationalism and speeding the break-up of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Yugoslavia, has ground to a halt - at least when it comes to news about irredentist Serbs in Bosnia.

In the city yesterday, the official media, the main weapon in the political arsenal of Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, had not uttered a word about Nato war planes obliterating a Bosnian Serb tank on the outskirts of Sarajevo just 24-hours earlier.

A few short months ago such an incident of 'international aggression' would have dominated newscasts for days. But yesterday, only a few independent stations carried the report with little prominence.

What lies at the heart of this news vacuum is the struggle between Mr Milosevic, the undisputed master of Balkan intrigue, and his one-time pupil and client warlord, Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs.

Mr Milosevic, whose main priority now is to have the UN trade embargo lifted, feels that the Bosnian Serbs have won their war in Bosnia and should settle for the latest peace plan which gives Serbs 49 per cent of the country.

Mr Karadzic, however, is displeased by the configuration of the territory on offer, and argues such a plan would not only undermine his army's military achievements but also land him with an unviable political entity.

There is speculation in Belgrade that Mr Milosevic is determined to depose Mr Karadzic and install a more pliant Bosnian Serb leadership. To this end, Mr Milosevic has closed Serbia's borders with the so-called Bosnian Serb Republic, cutting off vital fuel and military shipments. He has also started establishing power bases for his Socialist Party in Serb-held Bosnia to rival Mr Karadic's Serbian Democratic Party.

The risk of this strategy is that Mr Karadzic may be able to use it with Serbian nationalist leaders in Belgrade, who are angry at what they see as Mr Milosevic's capitulation to Western demands in order to ease sanctions.

NEW YORK - The UN Security Council was this morning poised to adopt its first resolution easing sanctions against Yugoslavia. The council was due to adopt two other resolutions at the same time: tightening travel and economic restrictions against Bosnian Serb leaders and condemning ethnic cleansing in Banja Luka and other areas, Reuter reports.

The easing to sanctions include allowing passenger flights in and out of Belgrade airport and passenger ferry traffic between Bar in Montenegro and Italy.