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Government moots lifting sanctions against Yugoslavia

Belgrade celebrates the fall of Slobodan Milosevic

(Keystone)

The Swiss government is considering lifting sanctions against Yugoslavia within the next week, following the collapse of the government of Slobodan Milosevic.

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, told swissinfo on Friday: "We are going to handle the question in accordance with the international community - especially the European Union - and we think that the sanctions in the economic field have to be lifted."

He said that restrictions against Milosevic and people linked to him - especially the freeze on accounts and restrictions on entry - would remain in place.

Switzerland has frozen the assets of some 300 people or companies linked to the former president, and blocked about 100 bank accounts.

The easing of economic sanctions could come as early as next week: "As far as we know, the EU will decide on the issue on Monday," the minister said, "So within the next week these are elements which can be decided."

Earlier, the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, welcomed Yugoslavia's "entry into the circle of democratic nations" on behalf of the cabinet. He said the change of power was important for the stability of southeastern Europe.

Ogi said Switzerland supported the new government, and said that Berne would extend financial and political support to the country in order to help the people recover from "the legacy of the Milosevic-regime."

European Union officials in Brussels say they may on Monday lift an oil embargo and a flight ban, imposed last year. However, they said the lifting of financial restrictions and a visa ban was likely to take longer.

As a non-EU state, Switzerland did not take part in these sanctions, but imposed a similar embargo.

Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague - Switzerland's Carla del Ponte - has called on Milosevic's opponent, Vojislav Kostunica, to arrest and extradite the former leader.

Speaking on a visit to the Kosovar capital, Pristina, she said: "My message to Kostunica is that I would be ready at any time to receive Milosevic in The Hague."

Switzerland's substantial Serb population has been watching the events in their native land with intense scrutiny, often wondering where the former president's fate lies.

However, Ethnic Albanian Kosovars - many of whom fled to Switzerland last year after Serbian forces launched a wave of ethnic cleansing - appear far more detached.

Kadri Cenko, an official at the Popular Albanian University in Geneva, told swissinfo: "The Albanian community is viewing events in Belgrade with some indifference. Politicians of the left and the right in Serbia are the same on the question of Kosovo."

While admitting that not much is known about what Kostunica stands for, Cenko said the president-elect had already declared that he considered Kosovo to be an integral part of Serbia.

"The people of Serbia have been indoctrinated with nationalistm for 100 years," he added, "So the democratisation of Serbia will take many years."

swissinfo with agencies

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