Yugoslav deputy premier fired after outspoken comments
'My voice of reason has been silenced'
April 28, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Vuk Draskovic, the Yugoslav deputy premier who recently raised eyebrows with blunt criticism of Yugoslavia's president, was fired Wednesday even as NATO officials praised his outspokenness.
"My voice of reason has now been silenced," Draskovic told CNN's Brent Sadler.
Draskovic told Sadler shortly after his dismissal that he believed he had been speaking for the government of President Slobodan Milosevic when he said it should make a deal to end the NATO bombing.
Yugoslavia must be prepared to "accept a U.N. mission under the flag of U.N. international forces here for establishing and protecting the peace in Kosovo," Draskovic told CNN on Monday.
Draskovic also said that the federal government should "stop lying" about the military and humanitarian situation in Yugoslavia.
His ouster signaled the victory of hard-liners who support Milosevic, Draskovic said.
The longtime maverick politician said he would return to his role as an opposition leader.
Just before Draskovic's firing, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels that "green shoots of democratic recovery" were showing up in Yugoslavia -- an assertion he backed up by citing statements by Draskovic and other Serb politicians.
"They do suggest that some people are beginning to look for an exit strategy, that they need a way out, and that, therefore, they have had time to recognize the reality and cooperate with the international community," Shea said.
'Serbia will continue to fight'
In recent days, Draskovic has said that the federal government should "stop lying" about the state of the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. In the wake of his firing, three members of Draskovic's political party -- the nationalist Serbian Renewal Movement -- resigned from the Yugoslav cabinet as well, Sadler reported.
U.S. President Bill Clinton said he "should not comment" on the shakeup within the Yugoslav leadership. But other U.S. and NATO officials said Draskovic's firing was another sign that Milosevic has no tolerance for dissent within his government.
"Draskovic's ouster is a sign of complete contempt by President Milosevic for those who speak the truth," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.
Though Draskovic has run afoul of Milosevic, he remained critical of NATO on Wednesday.
"NATO is the aggressor, killer of my nation and my state," Draskovic said. "Serbia will continue to fight against aggression to defend our country and national unity against (the) aggression of NATO countries."
Shea said the 52-year-old Draskovic "has not exactly been a friend of NATO in the past, and he does bear some responsibility for stirring up nationalism in Yugoslavia."
Solana hints at diplomatic progress
Draskovic's dismissal came as NATO's secretary-general hinted that diplomatic efforts to bring peace to Yugoslavia could yield positive results.
"We still have points on which we are separated, but we are making progress," NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said Wednesday, before the news broke of Draskovic's firing.
Diplomatic efforts are under way among NATO governments and Russia to find a political solution to the Kosovo crisis and the month-long NATO air war it spawned, Solana said.
Meanwhile, NATO continues to bomb targets in the Yugoslav republics of Serbia and Montenegro, and expressed regret for civilians killed in an air raid in southern Serbia. Yugoslav officials said at least 16 people, including 11 children, were killed in the Tuesday attack.
NATO is demanding that the Yugoslav government pull its troops out of Kosovo, grant autonomy to the ethnic Albanian majority in that Serbian province and allow international troops to enforce an end to fighting between Serb forces and ethnic Albanians.
U.S. envoy Strobe Talbott on Tuesday met with Russian leaders, including special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin. Talbott said there was no indication that Belgrade was willing to meet NATO demands for ending the bombing campaign.
Annan: 'We are in early stages'
Talbott was scheduled to brief U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in Bonn for talks with European Union and German officials while en route to Moscow.
Annan said Wednesday that the Russians have played a "constructive and useful role" in trying to settle the crisis. But he warned against any hope of a quick solution.
"We are in the early stages here, and I would not want anyone to have unrealistic expectations as to the immediate or instant success," he said.
Milosevic has rejected the idea of an armed international force on Serbian soil, and refuses to resume talks on the Kosovo issue until the NATO bombing campaign stops.
Shea reiterated on Wednesday that the alliance will not compromise on its demands. "That would lead to a messier arrangement that Milosevic would try to undermine," he said.
Podgorica airport under fire
Wednesday's attacks on Yugoslavia included new raids in Montenegro, Serbia's sister republic.
NATO has so far avoided extensive bombing of Montenegro, which has a pro-Western, democratic government and strained relations with Serbia.
Montenegro has tried to remain neutral in the conflict between Yugoslavia and NATO. But in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica on Wednesday, CNN's Nic Robertson reported two large explosions and smoke rising from near the city's airport.
That facility has been struck in the past because NATO said Yugoslav planes had been launched from there to attack ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. In addition, witnesses said that an aircraft storage facility had been hit.
British military officials said the latest NATO raids included air defense sites in the republic.
The Yugoslav army in Montenegro has also been aiding hard-hit Serb troops in Kosovo, Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander, said Tuesday.
NATO is laying plans to interdict oil supplies entering Yugoslavia by sea through the Montenegrin port of Bar. Some allies have reservations about the move, which must be approved by all 19 NATO governments. Shea said plans to stop ships carrying oil are being drawn up with an eye toward limiting the impact on Montenegro.
On Monday, the European Union banned fuel shipments to Yugoslavia but left it to NATO to enforce the embargo in the Adriatic Sea.
Britain sorry for civilian deaths
Meanwhile, Britain's defense secretary expressed regret Wednesday for a stray bomb that Yugoslavia said killed at least 20 people in the Serbian village of Surdulica.
NATO has admitted that one of its bombs -- meant for an army barracks in the town, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Belgrade -- missed its target and hit a residential area about noon Tuesday (6 a.m. EDT). At least 11 of the dead were children, Serb authorities said.
"NATO makes every effort possible to avoid civilian casualties, and in more than 4,400 attacks by NATO, only a tiny fraction have led to unintended consequences, including the loss of civilian lives," said Defense Secretary George Robertson.
A NATO source said the laser-guided bomb missed its target by about 500 yards when smoke from a previous strike muddled its guidance system. The airstrike nevertheless succeeded in destroying the barracks, Robertson said.
Despite Tuesday's deaths, the number of civilians killed by NATO air raids is dwarfed by the scale of the humanitarian crisis faced by ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo, Robertson said.
He dared Milosevic to allow international television crews unrestricted travel throughout the country, as well as the ability to air their footage within Yugoslavia.
Correspondents Brent Sadler, Alessio Vinci, Nic Robertson and Richard Roth contributed to this report.
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