BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The recent suspension of U.S. aid to Yugoslavia was an effort to seek an end to human rights violations and constitutional abuses by the communist regime of the Serbian Republic that threaten to push the country into civil war, the U.S. ambassador explained Monday.
'The action we took ... is not directed against the Serbian people but against the Serbian government,' Ambassador Warren Zimmerman told a rare Belgrade news conference.
He said the Serbian regime of communist President Slobodan Milosevic must abandon its 'dangerous' policies and enter a constructive dialogue with the other five republics to resolve their dispute over whether the multi-ethnic federation should be preserved or dissolved.
The feud has raised ethnic tensions, resulting in the deaths since May 2 of at least 21 people, and Zimmerman that without talks, 'in my view, there will surely be violence and possibly civil war.'
He branded as 'totally unfounded and totally ridiculous' reports in Serbia's communist-controlled media that U.S. and other NATO troops were poised in Germany to intervene in Yugoslavia's crisis.
Zimmerman's comments were apparently aimed at pre-empting any anti-U. S. rhetoric that might be planned by Milosevic following an unprecedented attack Friday on his regime by the Bush administration.
Milosevic routinely portrays condemnation of his regime as condemnation of all of Yugoslavia's 8.5 million majority Serbs.
The U.S. criticism of Milosevic came in a statement by Secretary of State James Baker announcing restoration of aid to Yugoslavia that was automatically suspended May 6 in the absence of a certification by the Bush administration of human rights standards in the multi-ethnic Balkan state.
Despite giving that certification, Baker accused Serbia of trampling on the political and human rights of the 1.5 million-member ethnic Albanian majority of Kosovo Province. The 200,000 Serbs in Kosovo regard it as the 'cradle' of their culture and charge that ethnic Albanians want to secede and merge the province with neighboring Albania.
Baker also criticized Serbia for blocking on May 15 the constitutionally required annual rotation of the post of Yugoslav president. It was to have gone to Stjepan Mesic, the Croatian Republic's member of the eight-man federal collective presidency and an advocate of a negotiated dissolution of the Serbian-majority federation.
Serbia wants to either preserve the union, or absord Serbian enclaves now in other republics, a policy many experts blame for raising ethnic tensions.
Baker said that while U.S. aid was restored on a 'selective basis,' he was cancelling U.S. insurance for new American investments in Serbia and would seek to have Serbia summoned before a human rights hearing by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Zimmerman rejected contentions that Washington's statement implied backing for Croatia and Slovenia, which advocate dissolution of the federation because of what they perceive as Serbian domination.
'We are opposed to any separatism in Yugoslavia,' Zimmerman said. 'What (Baker's) statement does is identify what we see as the most serious problems.'
Zimmerman reaffirmed the U.S. desire to see Yugoslav unity maintained through peaceful dialogue. He said Serbia had 'horrified the Western world' by blocking Mesic and paralyzing the highest organ of the Yugoslav government, an act he said would further destabilize the country.
'It is not in anybody's interest ... to see a civil war in the heart of Europe,' he said.