NIS, Serbia (Reuters) - The first trucks carrying European Union fuel aid to the Serbian opposition have arrived in the southern town of Nis after being held up at the Yugoslav border for almost two weeks.
By 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, three of the 14 EU trucks had arrived in Nis, controlled by opponents to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and others were reportedly on their way from the border a three-hour drive away.
The first truck, which arrived late on Monday, headed to the Nis heating plant.
''The trucks were customs cleared at the border,'' driver Vele Veljanoski told Reuters. ''I have all the documentation.''
Two trucks arrived later and went straight to the Nis customs depot.
Importer Mile Matic, from a mediating company working on behalf of the EU, earlier said all 14 trucks would be in Nis by Tuesday morning and that they had been told to go the customs station at the airport.
''If everything goes smoothly, the customs procedure should be finalised tomorrow,'' he told Reuters on Monday.
The aim of the EU aid scheme is to encourage the opposition and further isolate Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, as well as to provide badly needed heating fuel as winter sets in.
The trucks have been held up at the border since November 24 while customs officials found a series of bureaucratic problems, and it was unclear whether Monday's developments signaled a real step forward in the EU's bid to deliver the heating fuel.
''I'm extremely cautious after what happened over the last 13 days,'' said Michael Graham, the head of the European Commission's office in Belgrade.
He said that the decision to allow the trucks to proceed might have been designed to cause confusion during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, which had been due to discuss expanding the heating oil scheme.
''We have to see what this means in terms of customs clearance,'' Graham said.
Nis Mayor Zoran Zivkovic, a key opposition figure, said the decision to suddenly allow the trucks to go to his town came as a complete surprise, suggesting that it may be a trick.
''If this is really a decision to send them to Nis for customs clearance, then it is something that should have happened 13 days ago,'' Zivkovic told the B2-92 radio station.
EU decided on Friday to abandon its first attempt to deliver the fuel after the drivers of the 14 trucks complained of intolerable conditions. But the trucks remained stuck at the border over the weekend.
In Brussels, the EU said it was hopeful that the trucks would soon be able to deliver the oil to Nis and the nearby town of Pirot. Javier Solana, the EU's chief foreign and security representative, made clear the union's hopes had been raised by the latest news from Serbia.
The EU ministers on Monday doubled the number of officials and Milosevic allies barred from travelling to EU member states as part of efforts to isolate the Yugoslav authorities.
They approved a list of almost 690 people from Milosevic and his family downwards who should not be issued visas to EU states. The list had previously had just over 300 names on it.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet