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Serb opposition proposes freezing Milosevic group’s foreign assets

December 11, 1996 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Opposition parties urged the world’s nations Wednesday to step up the pressure against Serbia’s leadership by freezing foreign assets of about 20 ruling families.

``This is a way in which the international community can punish this dictatorship without imposing an economic embargo against the entire population,″ said Miodrag Perisic, a vice president of Serbia’s Democratic Party.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic so far has successfully weathered a storm of protest sparked by the annulment of last month’s elections, which an anti-communist coalition won for the first time in 50 years.

Over the past two weeks, the United States gradually has intensified its criticism of Milosevic’s actions. It culminated Monday with a threat by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to harden economic sanctions against Serbia.

Opposition leaders strongly oppose a trade embargo. They say it would hurt ordinary people but hardly affect Milosevic and other leaders whom they accuse of illegally transferring hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public funds to private bank accounts in Cyprus, Greece, and Russia.

``We are looking towards the United States for help,″ said Miroljub Labus, the Democratic Party’s top economic expert. ``What comes to mind are some kind of specific sanctions to be imposed only against the 20 ruling families in Serbia.″

A State Department official commented that such a procedure would require too much time.

``There are probably 20 families which own most of Serbia’s assets,″ Labus said. ``Measures against them could include the freezing of foreign bank accounts and confiscation of property, and denying them visas to travel abroad.″

Labus and Perisic appeared at a public forum hosted by the State Department. In their meetings with U.S. officials, Labus and Perisic also asked for ``logistic support″ for the opposition, including the training of party activists in the United States.

Meanwhile, State Departent spokesman Glyn Davies assailed the new government weekly tabloid ``Flash.″ He called it ``the latest piece of evidence the regime will not hesitate to manipulate the press to protect itself.″

The banner headline over the inaugural edition said, ``The CIA is carrying out its plan: Albanian mafia is financing the demonstrations.″