Condemnation Greets Milosevic Letter

BELGRADE -- Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has been handed a series of stinging rebuffs to a letter aimed at easing foreign pressure over his country's political crisis.

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic sent the letter Friday in answer to a report published by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that said the opposition Zajedno, or Together, coalition was cheated of victory in local elections in 15 of Serbia's largest towns including Belgrade.

Aimed at defusing criticism, the letter backfired when organizations at home and abroad issued damning replies.

The United States slammed Belgrade's "hollow assurances" of commitment to democracy. The OSCE insisted that all opposition election victories be recognized. The Zajedno opposition coalition called the letter "Lies, lies, lies."

Former Spanish Prime Minister Filipe Gonzalez, who led a special OSCE investigation, endorsed Zajedno's claims that it had been cheated in the Nov. 17 poll.

In his reply, Milutinovic admitted opposition parties had won some of the annulled elections, but made no mention of the biggest prize, the Belgrade city assembly, and said results in several key cities were unclear.

Milutinovic conceded Zajedno won a majority in nine wards of Belgrade, he said nothing about the Yugoslav capital's policy-making municipal assembly and maintained the outcome in Nis, the original hotbed of protests, was still uncertain.

He also acknowledged Zajedno won three other cities, but said no party captured a majority in still three others, and called for more data on six more municipalities at issue.

"We consider the free multi-party elections in Serbia confirm most comprehensively the strong democratic tradition and long experience in developing stable democratic institutions," Milutinovic wrote.

But the United States issued a fresh warning that Belgrade's refusal to recognize the opposition victories would lead to further isolation.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Secretary of State Warren Christopher had outlined the U.S. view in a "very tough" message sent to Milosevic.

Burns said Milutinovic's response "does not go nearly far enough," and failed to address the OSCE report seriously.

The OSCE was also quick to rebuff Milutinovic's letter at a special meeting Friday, where it affirmed that Zajedno fairly won each invalidated election and called for complete recognition of the results by the authorities.

"The OSCE endorses the recommendations of Gonzalez' report and calls for prompt and complete implementation," said Ambassador Lars Vissing of Denmark, whose country took over the chairmanship of the OSCE on Jan. 1.

Zajedno also rejected the government's message and vowed to continue with daily mass protests.

"Milosevic not only rejects Gonzalez' report and OSCE recommendations but also deliberately misleads the world about the election results in Serbia," the opposition said in a statement faxed to news agencies.

"It has become very clear that Milosevic has opted for a conflict with the whole world in an effort to stay in power."