US secretly wants Milosevic to step down, says opponent

 

THE United States no longer needs the Serbian President, Mr Slobodan Milosevic, to make peace work in Bosnia and is ready to see him out of power, an opposition leader, Mr Miroljub Labus, said yesterday.

Mr Labus, a vice president of the Democratic Party which is part of the Zajedno (Together) opposition coalition, after talks in Washington with State Department officials and congressmen, said: "The US government has decided Milosevic is not necessary for the implementation of the Bosnian peace agreement. My feeling is they have reached a decision he has got to go."

Mr Milosevic has been assailed by over a month of street protests demanding his ousting since Zajedno accused his ruling socialists of cheating it of victories in local elections on November 17th.

The US has led strong western criticism of effective one-party rule in Serbia and demanded that Mr Milosevic accept defeat in Belgrade and other towns where, Zajedno claimed it won. But it has not said publicly that he should quit.

He has until now been seen as crucial to the success of the year-old peace agreement in Bosnia which he helped to craft and forced the Bosnian Serbs to sign.

Mr Labus said State Department officials had promised Zajedno full support if it "introduced democracy into Serbia in a democratic way". Serbia is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by the end of 1997.

Until the crisis over the local elections, western diplomats assumed that Mr Milosevic, who cannot run a third time for the Serbian presidency, would keep power by taking over as president of Yugoslavia.

Political sources said the apparent readiness of the US to see him toppled significantly weakened his position.

. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe confirmed yesterday it would send a delegation to Belgrade in the next few days to investigate a disputed local election last month.

In a statement issued in Vienna, the OSCE said the mission would be headed by the former Spanish prime minister, Mr Felipe Gonzalez.

The security body said the decision to send a team to Belgrade followed an invitation extended last week by the Yugoslav Foreign Minister, Mr Milan Milutinovic, to Mr Flavio Cotti, the OSCE's current chairman-in-office.

"Mr Cotti has asked the special representative to seek information from all political forces and institutions, including the media, and from the judiciary on the facts and events relating to the municipal elections, including the annulment of their results," the statement said.