Chilly Christmas Wishes From Serbia's President

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When the European Union proposed a plan to isolate and weaken Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic by delivering heating oil directly to towns run by his opponents, U.S. diplomats were skeptical. They said the oil — which Serbia badly needs this winter because of the Western embargo — would either fail to reach its recipients or end up in Milosevic's hands.

It turns out they were right. Last week Milosevic's customs seized a convoy of trucks carrying some 350 tons of oil intended for Nis and Pirot, two opposition-run towns in southern Serbia. The convoy was stopped as soon as it crossed the border from Macedonia, and the two mayors, who came to meet it, were not even allowed to get near the trucks.

Meanwhile, the opposition-run areas complain that the state-run oil company refuses to give them any fuel at all. And Belgrade is saying it has solved the heating problem in the rest of the country by making deals with Slovakia and Iraq, exchanging Serbian copper, food and medicine for Slovak electricity and Saddam Hussein's oil. In the end, it seems that the people most likely to shiver this winter are the ones who voted against Milosevic.