- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

If the West is waiting for Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic to disappear, it is quite mistaken. Last week, his allies in parliament paved the way for him to be re-elected for two more four-year terms and changed the Serbian constitution to lessen Montenegro's power even further in the federal parliament. The presidential election, which the Serbian leader has now ordered to be held Sept. 24, is a calculated move on the part of Mr. Milosevic to prevent opposition forces from uniting before the elections originally set for one year hence.

Yugoslavian opposition figures believe they can rally support before the elections if they act together. But there is not guarantee of unity. In the past Mr. Milosevic has succeeded in dividing the opposition, and he may do so again. The government of the Republic of Montenegro and Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, have talked of boycotting the elections, but this would only hurt their cause. The new constitutional changes allow the president to be elected by the majority of votes cast regardless of who shows up. By playing hooky, the opposition would effectively be supporting Mr. Milosevic. His political power revived, the Serbian leader would be in position to start a new round of ethnic cleansing.

The question is what role the United States and Europe can play in supporting opposition forces in Yugoslavia. In testimony before the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on European Affairs, Paul R. Williams, a legal adviser to the Kosovo Albanian Delegation to the Rambouillet/Paris Peace negotiations, said, "Even if it successfully restores electricity, reconstitutes the police force, redrafts the school curriculum and trains an impartial judiciary, the U.S. still will not have resolved the underlying causes of the conflict … To win the peace it is necessary to address the fact that the primary cause of the conflict and the continued instability in the region is the use of ethnic aggression and political oppression by Milosevic's Serbian nationalist regime as a means of perpetuating its political power."

In meetings with members of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development last month, the Yugoslavian opposition delegation met with much good will but only vague promises of support. Presidential contenders George W. Bush and Al Gore need to formulate a solid foreign policy now on how to deal with Mr. Milosevic, so that six months hence the United States does not find itself facing another Balkan conflict. As long as the United States has no strategy and the Serbian and Montenegrin political opposition remains divided, Mr. Milosevic will continue to exploit the situation to the great disadvantage of the people of Yugoslavia.

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