Waiting for Milosevic to step down would be suicidal, says aid head By Antoine Lokongo A CATHOLIC aid agency has urged Western governments, the UN and the EU to lift sanctions imposed on Serbia — irrespective of the outcome of the current political crisis.
Echoing strong calls for the lifting of sanctions from Churches and humanitarian agencies inside Serbia, the Catholic Aid Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod), an agency of the Bishops of England and Wales, said the West should shake off its ambiguity over the sanctions and signal its support for the Serbian people by lifting sanctions immediately on humanitarian grounds.
A spokesman for Cafod said: "The humanitarian situation in Serbia has gone from bad to worse since the comprehensive economic sanctions were imposed.
"Their impact on ordinary people can no longer be justified by political aims. UN figures show that a staggering 63 per cent of the population live in poverty and less than one in ten can afford anything more than food and basic necessities.
"Whatever the outcome of this political crisis, the West must ensure that its actions are not compounding the humanitarian suffering of a population who have surely suffered enough."
Cafod's call for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Serbia after President Slobodan Milosevic waged war against Bosnia and Kosovo, came a week after the people of Serbia voted against him in the September 25 presidential elections.
The leader of the opposition, Vojislav Kostunica, won 55 per cent of the vote. but the Yugoslav Federal Electoral Commission ordered a second round of elections, claiming that Mr Kostunica had failed to achieve the majority needed for an outright win against President Milosevic.
More than 2(10,000 people converged on central Belgrade last week to show support for the opposition candidate, and workers prepared to strike in the latest drive to force President Milosevic from power.
Boris Radovic, director of the Belgrade-based International Aid Network, who addressed British politicians in March this year, said the elections confirmed what he said then — that the Serbian people no longer supported President Milosevic and therefore they should not he punished for his crimes.
Mr Radovic said: "If the West accepts that the people have voted for change, then they too should change their policy of punishing the whole population for the criminal policies of the Milosevic regime.
"It would be immoral to keep the sanctions in place from the time when the Serbian people have clearly demonstrated through the ballot that they don't have anything to do with the Milosevic's regime. To wait for what the final political outcome will be before sanctions are lifted is suicidal. The people do not deserve sanctions anymore after 10 years of war and economic mismanagement."
Mr Radovic said there was plenty of evidence that the West wouldn't lift sanctions against Serbia because it was not sure whether Milosevic would quit power or whether Kostunica would hand him over to be tried for crimes against humanity.
Serbian opposition politicians had clashed with EU officials in the past for proposing that sanctions would not be lifted until President Milosevic is handed over to the War Crimes tribunal at the Hague.
"This is an unfair demand. The people of Serbia already hate Milosevic but still resent the recent Nato bombings of their country, because they perceived them as a 'collective punishment' in which hundreds of thousands of people who have never voted for Milosevic, and who have nothing to do with him were punished as rebellious.
"There are many other ways to deal with Slobodan Milosevic," Mr Radovic said.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The difficulty is that democratic change hasn't occurred yet, because Mr Kostunica has not yet taken office. Milosevic tins cynically manipulated the system in order to massage the result and he is still clinging on unto power."