How Milosevic uses loss as gain

He may keep wartime powers to curb rising dissent over the loss of

While most news about Kosovo focuses on the changes in the province, the rest of Yugoslavia is taking its own twists and turns, too.

Opposition leaders have charged that the Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic is trying to make permanent the draconian laws that were enacted nearly three months ago when NATO attacked Yugoslavia.

The laws severely restrict news media and allow police to search citizens and their belongings at will. In addition, the laws prohibit men between the ages of 18 and 65 years old from leaving the country.

"These laws can last until judgment day," said Dragan Soc, Montenegrin Minister of Law, on Tuesday.

In an interview with a Montenegrin newspaper, Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic said that before martial law could end, security had to be guaranteed for all of Kosovo's citizens and the mechanisms for peace had to function.

Serbia's most powerful opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic, said that Mr. Bulatovic's statements indicated a willingness to return to the regime's old ways.

Opposition leaders had warned in March that the Yugoslav government would likely use the war as a pretext to permanently tighten its grip on the country and further restrict opposition media.

Since the war ended, opposition figures have become increasingly vocal, although they largely still avoid directly criticizing Yugoslav President Milosevic.

"The war has ended. What do we need these laws for?... We can do nothing without embarking on a new course," says Mr. Draskovic.

Mr. Milosevic, meanwhile, has recently tried to show a more democratic face to the world. He told a crowd in Aleksinac that a new Serbia would restore its relationship with the world, and he promised that Yugoslavia would be the most free and most democratic country in the world.

Milosevic's appearance at rallies over the past few days to stress reconstruction and renewal have drawn the ire of many Serbians because the Yugoslav leader appears nonplused by the tremendous wave of Serbian refugees sweeping north from Kosovo.

"Every day, Milosevic's speeches appear more disassociated from reality," says a member of an opposition party in Belgrade.

"At least he's quit talking about how we saved the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. Now he's giving victory speeches on bridges while refugees once again sweep Serbia," said a Serbian opposition leader from Kosovo who spoke in Belgrade on Tuesday.

Wave upon wave of refugees from the region's years of wars has strained Yugoslavia's already battered social system to the breaking point.

Jete Sorenson, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, estimates that 50,000 Serbs have left Kosovo. Some 33,000 have entered Serbia, and close to 20,000 gone to Montenegro.

Some politicians are insisting that those who are fleeing Kosovo for fear of ethnic Albanian retaliation will be repatriated as soon as KFOR peacekeeping troops stabilize the situation.

"Those [Serbs] who left in this turbulent period will go back as soon as KFOR troops arrive and as soon as local government is established," says Draskovic.

Eight hundred Serbs and Montenegrins from Kosovo arrived in Kraguevac on Tuesday, and Kraljevo is said to be awash in refugees. Many towns haven't yet found housing for the Bosnian and Croatian refugees of years past.

Kraguevac officially warned that the city was caring for 5,000 from Croatia and Bosnia and could not economically bear yet another wave of refugees. The city warned that without aid, the situation would be "catastrophic."

Employees at Hotel Korlai, 30 miles south of Belgrade, long ago stopped serving paying clients and have catered to all three waves of Serbian refugees over the past seven years.

"We used to serve regular-paying clients from state factories, but those closed long ago, and we've been a refugee hotel for many years," says Ranka, a war-weary waitress who hasn't received a regular salary in two years.

In 1993 and 1994, Muslim and Serb refugees arrived at the hotel from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Two years later, some of the 300,000 Serbs who fled the Krajina region of Croatia stayed at the hotel.

And now there's the Kosovo wave of refugees. Hotel Kolari's new guests are a large family of Gypsies (Roma) who arrived from the Suva Reka district of Kosovo two days ago on small tractors.

"A Serbian neighbor suggested we should go," says gypsy elder Djemal, of the Nezaraj family. "Then the Army came. They told us the KLA would have our heads because they don't like Romas. We packed our things and left in two hours with anything we could carry. We've lived in Kosovo for generations."

A dozen or so members of the Nezaraj family describe deserted ghost villages on their flight out of Kosovo. KFOR troops had not yet arrived, they say, the KLA was coming back, and everyone panicked.

For four days, the gypsy band moved 60 miles a day, their wooden carts piled with foam cushions and blankets. They slept and drove on the side of the road, they say, hoping to reach family in Belgrade.

But authorities in Belgrade are trying to prevent convoys of such displaced persons from wandering the capital's streets - a scene that would surely remind Serbs of how the war really ended.

But the Nezarajs say there's no chance of going back. "We don't believe we'll be protected by foreign peacekeepers," says the elder Djemal. "We used to live together peacefully, but that is impossible now."

The third wave of 50,000 refugees, along with 40,000 soldiers returning home from Kosovo and the government's continuance of martial law could threaten political stability across Serbia quickly.

"I would prefer if we didn't achieve change that way, but it could happen. When that dam of frustration breaks, look out. It could be like Romania," says a Serbian journalist.

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