Milosevic challenger pledges to change Serbia

BELGRADE, Sep 2, 2000 -- (Reuters) Vojislav Kostunica, the main challenger to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in forthcoming elections said on Friday he would lead Serbia back to Europe.

"I pledge to try to change this state of ours for the better in accordance with the laws of God and humankind, whereas I shall never let power change me," Kostunica told some 4,000 cheering people in packed Belgrade Sava Center.

Speaking at the kick-off of the official election campaign of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) bloc which nominated him as presidential candidate, Kostunica promised "no...revenge or mockery of those who voted differently."

Milosevic called Yugoslav presidential and parliamentary elections as well as local polls in Serbia for September 24. All recent opinion polls show Kostunica has a clear lead over him.

The DOS presented its candidates for both houses of the Yugoslav parliament before Kostunica, who received a standing ovations, addressed the audience.

In a seven-minute speech frequently interrupted by applause, he promised new, free elections within a year and a half.

Until then, Kostunica said he would "persistently and patiently strive to get our country back into the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe and restore its rightful membership of the United Nations and the world's leading financial institutions".

An OSCE report has expressed concern that laws governing Yugoslavia's elections give wide scope for abuse. Some political analysts expect Milosevic to declare victory even if he is defeated.


Earlier on Friday, the DOS bloc, in an uphill struggle to oust Milosevic, said it would campaign in UN-administered Kosovo.

Momcilo Trajkovic, a Kosovo Serb leader and a member of the DOS, said Kostunica "enjoys the confidence of Kosovo Serbs".

The DOS envisages that on September 14 all of the bloc's leaders will visit Mitrovica and other parts of Kosovo, under de facto international control since the end of the 1998-99 ethnic Albanian-Serb conflict in the Serbian province.

Trajkovic told Reuters the DOS was "aware of the fragile security in the province," and would "go ahead with a mild campaign". He added that the aim was not to provoke ethnic Albanians.

On Thursday, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, also a senior official in Milosevic's Socialist Party (SPS), said Milosevic would visit Kosovo but did not say whether this would happen during the campaign.

Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the largest Kosovo Albanian party, described plans by Yugoslav authorities to include Kosovo in the elections as a provocation.

UN administrators and NATO-led peacekeepers entered Kosovo in mid-1999 after NATO bombed Yugoslavia to halt Belgrade's army and police repression of Kosovo's majority Albanians.

On Thursday, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said in Pristina, Kosovo's capital: "I have been very careful not to give the last word of the European Union" on whether to sanction Yugoslav electioneering.

He said the final decision was up to UNMIK, Kosovo's UN administration under Bernard Kouchner.

UNMIK has made clear that Milosevic, indicted by a UN war crimes tribunal for alleged anti-Albanian atrocities by his forces, would be apprehended if he set foot in the province. But it faces a tough choice on how to handle Milosevic's foes if they take their campaign to the province.

Original article