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Conference Commends Yugoslavia on its Democratic Revolution - 2001-10-09

This week marks the first anniversary of the democratic revolution that ousted Slobodan Milosevic from power in Yugoslavia. The U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington held a conference Thursday on Serbia and Montenegro one year later.

Most speakers from Washington based non-governmental organizations were supportive of the progress that has been made by the democratic reformers in Belgrade. They commended the new authorities for their bold action in June extraditing Mr. Milosevic to the Hague, where he awaits trial for alleged war crimes.

But while acknowledging significant steps towards rebuilding a society corrupted and criminalized during more than a decade of Milosevic rule, several criticisms were voiced. A representative of the International Crisis Group, the Brussels based research agency, said Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica seems intent on preserving certain nationalistic elements of the Milosevic regime. The crisis group wants Belgrade to end its financial support of the Bosnian Serb army and remove the Milosevic holdover who continues to command the Yugoslav army.

Obrad Kesic of the ICN pharmaceutical group strongly defended Mr. Kostunica as an honest politician intent on establishing the rule of law. Mr. Kesic, whose company is locked in a legal fight with the Serbian government, called on the leaders in Belgrade to cooperate on Montenegrin independence. He said Montenegro should hold an independence referendum as quickly as possible. Mr. Kesic said new elections are needed in Serbia to resolve growing tensions within the 18 party DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia) ruling coalition.

John Scanlan, a U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1985 to 1989, said the needless dispute with ICN over ownership of a pharmaceutical company, is discouraging needed foreign investment. Mr. Scanlan said other unresolved problems hold back investment. "Will there be a rule of law approach to dealing with foreign investors? Will the courts be free? Independent? They haven't been up to now. There are a lot of Milosevic holdovers in the judicial system (courts)," Mr. Scanlan cintinued. "So, I'm disappointed. I think a lot more could have been accomplished."

Mr. Scanlan, a business consultant, says the Belgrade authorities need to attract one-billion dollars of investment per year. So far, he says, they have attracted only $10 million.

Other speakers commended Belgrade for successfully repairing relations with the international community. The new authorities, said one speaker, registered a remarkable success in working with NATO to resolve the security situation in the southern Presevo valley, where Albanian rebels had established themselves in the former security zone along the Kosovo Serbia border.