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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

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BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Indications grew Thursday that Russia, with Western blessings, could be preparing to offer Serbia a tempting deal -- the partial lifting of crippling UN sanctions if Belgrade permits monitors on its border with Bosnia.

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev proposed tougher sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs but said he wants UN sanctions against Serbia eased.

Kozyrev praised Belgrade for backing an international peace plan for Bosnia that was rejected by the Bosnian Serbs, according to Interfax and Itar-Tass.

"We stand for strengthening sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs, rather than canceling them," Kozyrev said, according to Interfax.

"As for Belgrade, it's different. Belgrade has changed its stance in the right direction and supported the plan, which corresponds to the Serbs' key national interests, so it deserves immediate cancellation of at least part of the sanctions."

News reports in Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia and signs that Russian-Serbian relations were on the mend all pointed to an offer, possibly to be made this weekend, to partially lift sanctions.

The economies of Serbia and tiny Montenegro, the other remaining republic in Yugoslavia, are buckling after more than two years of UN sanctions, imposed to end Serbian support of the Bosnian Serb war effort.

The squeeze appears to be working, with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic early this month breaking off all support for his Bosnian Serb brethren.

But he is likely to renege at some point unless rewarded, and the reported deal in the making is meant to satisfy both him and the United States and its allies. They want the border monitors to verify whether Milosevic is keeping his word on cutting off the Bosnian Serbs.

The offer also could put Milosevic in a bind. Though he is keen to have the sanctions lifted, he cannot afford to antagonize Serbian nationalists both within and outside his Socialist Party who vehemently oppose the use of outside monitors and who still support Bosnian Serbs.

Parliamentary debate on the decision to cut support to Bosnian Serbs began Thursday in Belgrade, demanded by nationalists opposed to the move.

There was no formal confirmation that any new offer to ease sanctions was on the table. But Tanjug, the Yugoslav news agency, reported that Kozyrev was to propose it Sunday, while visiting Milosevic in Belgrade.

It based the report on "Western diplomatic sources" and said the deal had been approved by the United States, Germany, France, Britain and Russia, the five authors of the latest peace plan for Bosnia.

The plan has has been accepted by Bosnian Croats and Moslems but rejected by Bosnian Serb political leaders.

Bosnian Serbs are expected to endorse rejection of the plan in a referendum scheduled for this weekend.

On Wednesday, a Serbian delegation led by Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic visited Moscow to discuss political and economic issues. The two sides signed trade agreements to take effect once the United Nations Security Council lifts or relaxes sanctions against the former Yugoslavia.

Marjanovic said upon returning to Belgrade that Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin wanted the sanctions ended.

Bilateral relations "have been reestablished at the level at which they should be," he said.

The Serbs also asked for Russian natural-gas shipments as humanitarian aid. Russian officials said they would present the question to the UN sanctions committee.

And Marjanovic said the sides agreed to set up a gas pipeline. The former Yugoslavia received about 2.5 billion cubic meters of Russian gas a year before UN sanctions, according to Interfax.

Russia and Serbia are traditional allies, sharing religious and ethnic bonds. But relations between Belgrade and Moscow had soured over recent months as Russia increased pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to settle and they refused.

Bosnian Serbs launched the war in April 1992, when they rebelled against a Moslem-Croat decision to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. About 200,000 are dead or missing.

There were no reports of major fighting in Bosnia early Thursday. But the situation remained tense near the Bosnian border in Croatia, where thousands of Moslem refugees who fled their republic after the defeat of their separatist leader are refusing to return home.