CEOL - EU plans to boost fuel deliveries to Serbian towns

BELGRADE, Dec 29, 1999 -- (Reuters) The European Union is planning a big increase in the number of fuel trucks it sends to Yugoslavia from Wednesday to try to help two opposition-held towns through the coldest part of the winter, officials said.

The increase, to 38 trucks from eight, follows appeals from the mayors of the southern town of Nis and nearby Pirot who were concerned by delays in the scheme, a controversial experiment in politically-targeted aid called Energy for Democracy.

"Yesterday I was in Nis and we were made aware there was a good reason to speed things up," said Jan Willem Blankert, deputy head of the delegation to Belgrade of the European Commission, the executive branch of the 15-member bloc.

"My colleagues in Brussels immediately approved the use of extra trucks," Blankert said by telephone. He said around 30 more trucks had now been hired on top of the existing eight.

Blankert made clear the decision was procedural, rather than political, and said there were no immediate plans by the EU to discuss broadening what had been billed as a pilot scheme to encompass other towns suffering from the winter cold.

"I hope the EU will discuss it in January. We are definitely looking into the possibility of extending the scheme," he said.

Initial Delays Now Reduced

The first batch of oil destined for Nis and Pirot, both run by opponents of Slobodan Milosevic, president of the Serbia-dominated Yugoslav federation, was held up for two weeks of customs checks before finally getting through on December 7.

The EU accused the government, isolated by economic sanctions over its role in the bloody disintegration of former Yugoslavia, of deliberately blocking the aid.

Yugoslav officials said the scheme was discriminatory but that fuel just had to go through normal customs procedures and that the paperwork had been wrong.

EU officials said the deliveries had since got easier, a development they said was partly due to an apparent political decision by the cash-strapped government to allow in the aid as well as better experience of the procedures.

"It's very urgent," Jelena Ciglanic, assistant to Nis mayor Zoran Zivkovic, said by telephone from the larger of the two towns, which have had problems with the state oil supplier.

Ciglanic said the local authorities had paid the oil monopoly Jugopetrol for extra fuel it had yet to deliver.

"We only have enough fuel for a few days left," she added.

As well as keeping its own 300,000 strong population warm, the Nis authorities are anxious to see other towns receiving the EU fuel, including those run by the governing Socialists, an idea the EU said it might consider if they did not abuse it.

"We keep being asked about the fact that the scheme is discriminatory," said Ciglanic, whose boss is a leading figure in a so-far ineffective campaign to oust Milosevic.

"It would be better for everybody if others were involved."

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