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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK

Milosevic calls for refugees to return

Serbian state news bulletins led on Thursday with a goodwill visit to Belgrade by a former Greek foreign minister, Karolos Papoulias, during which Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic called for the "return of Yugoslav citizens to their homes" and the re-establishment of peace.

Images of a smiling Milosevic receiving Papoulias in a conference room before sitting down for talks dominated Serbian TV's news programmes. Likewise, a meeting between Papoulias and Serbian President Milan Milutinovic.

The ex-minister, who now leads Greek parliament's foreign affairs and defence commission, had come to express the "Greek people's" solidarity with Yugoslavia in the face of Nato air attacks, Serbian radio reported.

Defending freedom and independence

"In very open and friendly talks, Karolos Papoulias emphasized that the Greek people admire the courageous people of Yugoslavia who are defending their freedom and independence," it said.

"The Nato aggression against Yugoslavia is directed against a people of an independent country, against peace and security in our region, and should be stopped," Papoulias was quoted as saying.

"The Greek people unanimously condemn the bombing and believe that open issues in Yugoslavia should be resolved exclusively by political means".

Milosevic thanked the Greeks and "all freedom-loving" people for their support.

"The Yugoslav people's resistance to the dictate of force has been met with wide support from all freedom-loving people in Europe and the world," he was quoted as saying.

The Yugoslav leader said the key conditions for peace in Kosovo were "equality of all national minorities living in the area and the safeguarding of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia and Yugoslavia".

"We assess that a just agreement on all open issues can be reached through a political process, with direct negotiations, and this presupposes an end to the aggression, the re-establishment of peace and the return of Yugoslav citizens to their homes," he said.

Improvised conditions

The reports on the Papoulias visit were among the few original video pieces shown by Serbian TV news, which continues to operate in improvised conditions, with the newsreader reading from paper and her voice tinny from the lack of a proper recording-studio.

Overnight air attacks were summed up by the newsreader and a number of correspondents apparently reporting by telephone, with none of the video reports of bombing raids and blast damage which were regularly filed by the TV in the first weeks of the conflict, before the Belgrade TV headquarters was bombed .

Early bulletins on Thursday repeated a correspondent's report on successful operations by a Yugoslav Army commando unit in Kosovo which was first shown on Wednesday.

The Soko (Hawk) anti-terrorist unit had just destroyed two small groups of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) rebels trying to enter Kosovo from Albania at Kosare, the correspondent said.

"The terrorists' group was liquidated before they could fire a single shot. Their snipers had no time to react. This proves that the surprise was complete," he said.

Statement to camera

One of the KLA members, who was captured in the fighting, was shown making a statement to camera.

"At the border we received assault rifles, a bomb and ammunition," the man said. "We were to shoot at everything that moved. The Yugoslav Army surprised us on Yugoslav territory. They captured us. To be precise, I gave myself up."

Serbian media carried no other reports on actual fighting on the ground in Kosovo on Thursday but the Beta news agency reported that two soldiers in the east Serbian town of Nis had received prison sentences for "desertion and defeatism".

Conscript Vladimir Randjelovic, 39, was convicted of deserting his unit on 24 March, the day NATO air attacks began, and inciting other soldiers to join him. Another man, Stojan Avdic, received five years for desertion in absentia.

Beta on Thursday also quoted an interview given to the BBC by Serbian Minister Without Portfolio Bogoljub Karic, in which he said that Milosevic was open to negotiation with Nato.

Ibrahim Rugova

Early bulletins on state TV and radio on Thursday did not mention the G8 meeting in Bonn nor did they report on the talks being conducted in Italy by moderate Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, who was allowed to leave Yugoslavia on Wednesday.

Indeed, none of the live media in Belgrade was seen or heard to report the departure of Rugova and his family, despite the prominence accorded it in the Western media.

Source: BBC Monitoring Caversham 06 May 99

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