Serbia offers property to settle debt to nation

BELGRADE, Jul 13, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia's parliament adopted on Wednesday a law clearing the path for the state to offer state-owned property for sale to holders of frozen, private hard currency savings.

The government will give six months to holders of these savings to make up their minds whether to accept business premises as a debt settlement.

Serbia needs to repay 3.6 billion German marks to its nation. Repayments of up to 150 German marks in the dinar currency equivalent started on June 1.

Refunds in hard currency began a month later, but the cash-strapped banking system has problems in securing enough foreign exchange.

With elections looming, the government is trying to settle its debt to bigger savers, those with 100,000 German marks or more.

Current lease holders, who happen to have frozen savings, will be able to purchase the business premises they use.

Eighty percent of the property value can be compensated by the frozen savings while 20 percent must be paid in cash.

Any sale for cash hard currency is illegal under Yugoslav foreign exchange law but the Serbian Finance Minister said Serbia was not violating any laws.

"The National Bank of Yugoslavia should not worry. This will increase the official foreign exchange reserves," Borislav Milacic told reporters. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said debts had to be repaid.

"We will repay our debts from real sources. No new money will be printed," he told the parliament.

Dragan Veselinov, leader of the Vojvodina-Sandzak coalition and the sole opposition representative present in the parliament, accused the government of trying to settle one injustice by creating another.

The Serbian opposition blames the government for failing to return to the original owners property nationalized and confiscated since 1945.

"With a debt repayment like this, a new bourgeoisie created in 1990 will protect itself by selling property that belonged to the 1945 bourgeoisie," Veselinov said. But Seselj said injustice could not be straightened after 55 years.

"We talk about the statute of limitations. In this country it is 20 years. The business premises belong to the state regardless of how the state got hold of it," said Seselj, also the leader of ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party.

Original article