SERBIA'S President Slobodan Milosevic has agreed to accept international monitoring of his blockade of the Bosnian Serbs in return for substantial Western concessions - in order to quell his followers' concerns that he is giving in to ``Western blackmail,'' Serbian and diplomatic sources say.
Mr. Milosevic appears to have won the support of his main ally, Russia, highlighting discord between Moscow and its United States-led Western partners over how to encourage Belgrade's break with its former allies following their rejection of the ``contact group's'' peace plan.
Milosevic is reportedly opposed to the mere easing of United Nations sanctions against Belgrade that the West is prepared to offer in exchange for foreign monitoring of the blockade, aimed at forcing the Bosnian Serbs to reverse their repudiation of the partition plan.
At last Sunday's secretive meeting in Belgrade with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, which focused on terms for relaxing the UN embargo, Milosevic called for the lifting of a wide range of sanctions and insisted on having the final say on the monitors' nationality and mode of deployment, according to independent Belgrade media.
This far exceeds the international community's proposal to reopen the Belgrade airport and restore sporting and cultural ties with the outside world as a reward for independent verification of whether Serbia has stopped fomenting the Bosnian war - the reason UN sanctions were imposed two years ago.
The weekly Telegraf magazine, quoting Serb sources, claimed Milosevic also demanded the lifting of restrictions on Serbian merchant shipping and the transit of goods through the country as well as easing limitations on the import of heating oil. In return, the Telegraf reports, the president agreed to the posting of 400 foreign observers, so long as they hail from Russia, Greece, and ``other friendly countries,'' are uniformed, and work alongside Serbian police.
The daily newspaper Borba, quoting Russian sources, claimed Milosevic also insisted that international monitors be deployed along Croatia's border with Bosnia-Herzegovina to check the smuggling of weapons to Muslim forces.
The newspapers' reports, if true, confirm the conviction among Western observers and members of Milosevic's ruling Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) that he cannot seal his former prots' isolation at any price, as this would lose him support among loyalists.
``Milosevic would like monitors, but is looking for a way of packaging it so that it doesn't become a political albatross,'' one diplomat says.
Since Belgrade broke commercial, military, and political ties with the Bosnian Serbs, Serbian nationalist opposition parties have railed against Milosevic, accusing him of betraying their ethnic kin.
But with his iron grip on the media, the police, and the Army, few in Serbia can seriously challenge Milosevic. Only the views of the SPS, it seems, are of any concern to him. He is anxious not to alienate them, analysts contend.
There is discontent among members over the blockade of the Bosnian Serbs and the prospect of international enforcement, with many believing that Milosevic is giving in to Western demands, party sources say.
By conceding too easily to the posting of foreign monitors, they fear he may also start yielding to international pressure to rescind his claim on the rebel Serb Krajina region of Croatia and grant autonomy to Serbia's predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo. ``Members are not happy about imposition of sanctions on the Bosnian Serbs, as it views the UN embargo on Serbia as wholly unjust,'' a senior SPS official says.
``If he agrees to monitors without linking this to substantial international concessions, then he could lose the backing of the party that fears that he would then be forced to yield on Krajina and Kosovo. If Milosevic is seen as accepting peace at any price then everything crumbles.''
In seeking a more lucrative, face-saving deal from the major powers, Milosevic seems to have acquired the support of the Russians.
Following his meeting in Belgrade, Mr. Kozyrev chastised Moscow's partners in the peace process, accusing them of ``bureaucratic inertia'' and ``limited flexibility'' toward Serbia - a reference to their insistence on the deployment of monitors before UN sanctions are eased.
He called for the swift relaxation of the international embargo, sowing the seeds of conflict with Western members of the contact group - which drew up the latest peace plan - who insist on independent verification of Serbia's blockade being established first, as they question its authenticity. A similar embargo imposed last year turned out to be a sham.