EU lifts trade ban on Serbia

The European Union lifted economic sanctions against Yugoslavia yesterday and offered $2 billion to help rebuild the country.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that EU foreign ministers had agreed to end an oil embargo, imposed during the Kosovo war in 1999, as well as a ban on commercial flights to and from Serbia, the larger of Yugoslavia's two republics.

But the EU left in place sanctions that target former President Slobodan Milosevic and his allies by freezing their assets abroad and banning them from traveling to the 15 EU nations. A ban on arms sales, imposed by the UN Security Council, also will remain in effect.

The EU foreign ministers remained silent on the fate of Mr. Milosevic, who wants to stay in Yugoslavia and is wanted for trial before the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands. Mr. Fischer said bringing Milosevic to court was "not a top priority."

The end of some sanctions marked a turning point in Serbia's relations with the rest of Europe and was a first step toward integrating the country into the European mainstream, according to the text of an EU statement. "The Yugoslav people have voted for democracy," the draft statement said. "As a result ... the EU has agreed on a radical revision of its policy towards Yugoslavia."

For starters, the EU will grant $2 billion in reconstruction aid for Serbia between now and 2007. The EU has always said the funds - part of a larger aid scheme for the entire Western Balkans - would not be given as long as Milosevic was president.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, whose country holds the EU presidency, will go to Belgrade today to brief Yugoslavia's President Vojislav Kostunica on the lifting of the sanctions and other issues. Underscoring the EU's desire to normalize relations, Mr. Kostunica has been invited to an EU summit on Friday and Saturday in the French resort of Biarritz.

The EU ministers asked the European Commission to draft a plan under which Yugoslav exports of farm and industrial goods will get duty-free access to the EU market. The issue of Yugoslavia's debts has not been resolved. The country cannot get fresh loans from the European Investment Bank until they are paid, officials said.

Bernard Kouchner, the chief UN administrator for Kosovo, appeared before the EU ministers with a sobering report. He said Kostunica's election does not guarantee a quick end to the rivalry between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Mr. Kouchner said a lifting of sanctions must be linked to a Kostunica pledge to shed light on the fate of "thousands of missing persons and detainees."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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