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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yugoslav Dissenter Draskovic Dismissed

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Dashing hopes that President Slobodan Milosevic might be preparing to reach a compromise on Kosovo, the Yugoslav deputy prime minister was fired Wednesday.

Vuk Draskovic, a former opposition leader and political maverick, was dismissed a day after publicly calling for Russia and the West to reach agreement on stationing foreign troops in Kosovo under United Nations control.

The official news agency Tanjug said Draskovic had been relieved of all duties in the government "because of his recent public statements in contradiction with the positions of the federal government."

After his dismissal, Draskovic said: "I believe I had been expressing through all this period the standings of the federal government especially after the NATO aggression had started."

Shortly before his removal, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujevic said Draskovic had been expressing his private views and repeated Belgrade's long-held position that only a nonmilitary foreign presence in Kosovo was acceptable.

Draskovic said the three other ministers from his party had resigned on hearing he had been fired - Information Minister Milan Komnenic, Minister without portfolio Milan Bozic and Internal Trade Minister Slobodan Nenadovic.

Analysts said their withdrawal was unlikely to have any real effect on the government since power in Yugoslavia lies with Milosevic and the government of Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation including Montenegro.

Draskovic's comments had stirred speculation that, after five weeks of punishing NATO air strikes, Milosevic was prepared to shift towards a compromise on his refusal to countenance foreign troops in Kosovo.

Bratislav Grubacic, editor of Belgrade independent newsletter VIP, said Draskovic's remarks had struck a chord with a population fed up with NATO bombing.

"A lot of ordinary people thought that Milosevic was using Draskovic to send a message. His dismissal has thrown that out," he said.

The West had made deployment of a NATO-led military presence in Kosovo a key plank of its peace plan for the mainly ethnic Albanian province in southern Serbia.

Milosevic's rejection of such a force was one of the main reasons for the failure of internationally brokered peace talks between ethnic Albanians and Serbs earlier this year. In the past few days Draskovic has also indirectly attacked the authorities by saying the public should be told the truth - that world public opinion is against Serbia and that Russia is not prepared to intervene militarily on its behalf.

His sacking indicates that Milosevic is sticking to his line against foreign troops and throws current diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the crisis into doubt.

The announcement came ahead of another visit to Belgrade by Russia's special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has become increasingly active, along with the United States and Germany, in the search for a solution.

Chernomyrdin planned to travel to Germany and Italy for talks on Thursday, and continue on to Belgrade on Friday.

Draskovic had said he expected Chernomyrdin and NATO to come to some agreement about an international peace force for Kosovo, which would be sealed in a resolution by the UN Security Council and which, he said, should then be accepted by Belgrade.

Chernomyrdin said after talks with Milosevic last week the Yugoslav leader was prepared to accept a UN-led military force in Kosovo. But Vujevic said on Wednesday a civilian presence was all that was acceptable.

NATO said the dismissal of Draskovic showed that Milosevic cannot tolerate growing dissent.

"All he is doing is further isolating himself from the rest of the political elite inside Yugoslavia and showing once more his defiance in refusing to come to terms with reality," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

NATO officials said they detected growing signs of internal opposition to Milosevic, citing Draskovic as an example.

"As you know Vuk Draskovic has not been exactly a friend of NATO in the past and he does bear a responsibility for stirring up nationalism inside Yugoslavia," Shea said.

"But at the same time it does him honor that in the last few days he has been prepared to recognize reality and to express the sentiment that an increasing number of Yugoslav citizens feel about their increasing isolation under Milosevic from the international community."

Draskovic must have known the risks he was taking by speaking out as he did, Shea said, and he must have known what the consequences would be.

"I feel he must therefore be reflecting increasingly strong feelings inside Yugoslavia," Shea said. But Draskovic himself cautioned against such conclusions.

"Don't make any link to any possible breaking of unity in Serbia. We have some differences but all Serbs are united in defending the country. I believe that we are close to a peaceful solution."

Despite some stirrings of criticism against Milosevic in Belgrade, supporters of democratic change in Yugoslavia say they are living under a blanket of fear that blocks any kind of mass protests.

A political analyst normally based in Belgrade but who is now living abroad said that in conversations by telephone and through e-mail with friends in the Yugoslav capital, he "detected a sense of relief'' after Draskovic spoke out, because "at least a few people are saying sensible things in public.''

"But I wouldn't be too optimistic, because Milosevic still has all the instruments of power,'' the analyst said Tuesday. "People are scared, people are worried, and I think rightly so. I'm receiving three or four times a day advice not to even think of coming back. The fear is palpable, and I think it's justified.''