YU says US tightening ring around it

BELGRADE, Sep 2, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia's state news agency Tanjug accused the United States on Friday of "tightening the intelligence and propaganda ring" around the country by setting up offices in neighboring states.

"The minutely planned and synchronized activities of the newly opened special U.S. government offices for undermining the legally elected authorities in Yugoslavia will start early this month," Tanjug said in a commentary.

It was the latest verbal attack on the United States ahead of elections scheduled for September 24. The government regularly accuses Western powers and the Serb opposition, which it describes as NATO "lackeys", of plotting to destroy Serbia.

In contrast, the Yugoslav authorities portray themselves as champions of independence against NATO countries which bombed Yugoslavia in the 1999 air campaign over Belgrade's repression of Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians.

Tanjug said the United States began opening offices in mid-August in Budapest, Sofia, Bucharest and Tirana, engaging almost 120 experts for psychological propaganda and espionage.

The Sofia office, it said, had recruited at least 15 Bulgarian army intelligence officers who would try to enter Yugoslavia to gather information ahead of the parliamentary, presidential and local elections, especially about the combat readiness of the army.

The four centers will conduct the bulk of their work through non-governmental organizations and multi-national companies, Tanjug said. It named one major U.S. company specializing in military infrastructure.

It also accused the United States of aiming to gain control of rich oil deposits believed to lie under Kosovo and off the coast of Montenegro, Serbia's pro-Western sister republic in the Yugoslav federation.

The United States set up an office in Budapest to deal with Serbian affairs just weeks before the elections. But American diplomats this week said this was a coincidence and they had planned to open the office much earlier.

They said the office was set up to better coordinate existing programs dealing with Serbia following the closing of the U.S. embassy in Belgrade last year due to the NATO-led bombing of Yugoslavia.

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