CEOL - EU Rebukes Yugoslavia Over Oil Hold-Up

BRUSSELS, Dec 3, 1999 -- (Reuters) The European Union accused Yugoslavia on Thursday of inventing bogus reasons for holding up EU-sponsored oil deliveries to opposition-held Serbian towns.

A senior European Commission official said the Serb customs authorities' "ludicrous" reasons for blocking the trucks carrying the heating fuel showed the callous disregard of the Yugoslav government for its people and the pressing need for a new government.

Fourteen trucks carrying the first shipment of oil under the EU's so-called "Energy for Democracy" program have been held up at the border for more than a week.

The customs authorities say the delay is caused by quite normal administrative procedures, while the EU says the government of President Slobodan Milosevic is throwing unjustified barriers in the way of the shipments.

"It's quite clear that obstacle after obstacle is being found to prevent the oil getting through to two towns where the heating situation is deteriorating steadily," the official told reporters.

The towns of Nis and Pirot, both run by opposition groups, were chosen as first recipients of oil under the scheme designed to help the relatively weak Serb opposition to oust Milosevic.

Energy for Democracy is supposed to be extended to other towns but the problems with the first shipment have cast doubts over the program's future.

"We're going to hang in there as long as we can," the official said. "We always knew this was going to be a difficult and risky enterprise.

"We'd like to be able to expand it if it works, but obviously the experiences we've had will have to be taken into account in deciding how we carry on from here," he added.

The latest delay came after the Yugoslav customs authorities said they needed evidence that the oil shipment was genuine humanitarian aid before letting it cross the border.

The EU has also asked for the trucks to be allowed to continue their journey despite a Yugoslav transport department complaint that they broke the maximum weight limit of 40 tons. So far, no response has been received, the official said.

"This demonstrates very clearly what sort of a government we're dealing with. It plays politics with its people."

The 14 trucks stuck at the border with almost 350 tons of heating fuel are trying to make the first of a series of deliveries intended eventually to bring about 25,000 tons of oil to opposition-controlled Serb towns.

Separately, the German government will today send six diesel locomotives to the Yugoslav province of Kosovo as part of its commitment to the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe.

The engines will provide greater rail capacity and help reduce road delays which are slowing the delivery of vital supplies to the region, Bodo Hombach, special coordinator of the Stability Pact, said in a statement.

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