Acceptance of Yugoslavia would bring peace, says nation's top businessman

Reconstruction aid should include Serbia, he tells U.S. journalists: WAR IN YUGOSLAVIA

June 06, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Don't isolate Yugoslavia.

That was the plea made yesterday by the country's leading businessman during a wide-ranging one-hour interview with U.S. journalists.

Bogoljub Karic said that to sustain peace in the Balkans, international reconstruction aid should pour into all parts of the region, including Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, which is being treated as an outcast by the West.

"The economic aid and international acceptance of Yugoslavia would help the international forces implement this peace in Kosovo," said Karic, a Serbian government minister who is within the country's ruling circle.

Western governments maintain that so long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is in power, Serbia won't receive any cash to reconstruct its destroyed infrastructure.

Karic said economic aid "should not be preconditioned" and added that the international community wouldn't be giving help to Milosevic but to "the people of the region and the country."

"Our people have swallowed a bitter pill and accepted this agreement and foreign troops into Kosovo expecting the international community will help overcome the misunderstandings we had with them," Karic said.

"If everything remained the same, the people would be disappointed," he said. "They would feel humiliated and betrayed. The consequences would be catastrophic."

Karic said it was time for people here to look to the future, maintaining that Yugoslavia needed to embrace political and economic reforms.

"Every conflict in the Balkans carries a great risk," he said. "It's almost always impossible to contain. Everything spills over. The problem with the Balkan people is they look into their history too much. We all want to get in the 21st century with the 15th century in our minds."

"That makes us ready to fight with each other," he added. "I believe this peace will be a turning point. We have to support it in economic terms. And the package of aid is necessary not only for Kosovo and Serbia, but all the countries in the region that have a low standard of living."

Karic, whose business interests include construction, telecommunications and banking, was among those here who counseled Milosevic to end the war as quickly as possible.

He portrayed the government as being split in the war's final weeks, claiming hawks led by Serbia's deputy prime minister Vojislav Seselj were prepared to ask the Orthodox Church to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people for a last-ditch defense of Kosovo.

In the end, Karic said, it was Milosevic who sought the peace deal, despite being indicted by an international tribunal for alleged crimes against humanity.

Karic said that when the indictment was announced, he feared the peace process "would melt down." Instead, he claimed, Milosevic "decided to answer" the indictment "with one big yes for peace."

He said that Milosevic still commands support among the public and that his orders to the military are treated "like a holy book."

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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