Brussels, 28 November 1999
Responding to the latest developments in Yugoslavia which are preventing the delivery of heating oil under the "Energy for Democracy" scheme, the European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten stated: "I very much regret that the Yugoslav authorities are preventing the delivery of fuel to the opposition-controlled towns of Nis and Pirot. The fuel is badly needed. It could be there within hours. Instead, it has been waiting at the border for four days, with officials citing ever more Kafka-esque reasons for holding it up. It is obviously being delayed for political reasons. I particularly deplore the detention of the Head of the district heating system in Nis and call for his immediate release. My message to the citizens of Nis and Pirot is simple: we have the oil waiting at the border, but I regret to say that Mr Milosevic and his officials have thus far prevented us from getting it through to you. The events of the last few days underscore once again why political change is so badly needed in Serbia to deliver a government genuinely interested in the welfare of its people."
Fourteen trucks carrying heating oil for the opposition-controlled towns of Nis and Pirot continue to be held up by Yugoslav authorities at the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where they arrived on 24 November 1999.
Yugoslav authorities have used a succession of administrative manoeuvres to prevent the trucks from moving. On 25 November 1999, they took samples of the oil from each of the trucks for analysis in Belgrade; on 26 November 1999, they refused to accept the results of the analysis faxed from Belgrade as authentic, and insisted that the original test-document be delivered to the border. On 27 November 1999 they announced that the trucks needed to be weighed before they could leave the border area, and claimed that because six weighed more than 40 tonnes none could proceed without special permission from the Transport Ministry which is closed until 1 December 1999.
The fuel is desperately needed in Nis and Pirot. Nis ran out of heating oil on 26 November 1999 and the district heating systems in Nis and Pirot were shut down on that date. In Nis, this left around a third of the city including schools, kindergartens and hospitals without heating. The Yugoslav authorities had consistently refused requests by the Mayor of Nis to release over 2,000 tonnes of heating oil held in reserve in a Republican depot in the city. And the police have detained since 26 November 1999 the Director of the District Heating Plant in Nis, Mr Zlatanovic, reportedly claiming he had shut down the district heating systems prematurely.
There have been demonstrations in Nis and Pirot demanding the release of the fuel oil. On the afternoon of 27 November 1999, the Mayor of Nis called an emergency meeting of the Nis City Assembly. This meeting called for the removal of the Police Chief in Nis and the immediate use of the 2 tonnes reserve, as well as the dismissal of the Head of Yugopetrol for failing to deliver 400 tonnes of fuel oil paid for by the city of Nis. It was followed by a further substantial demonstration in Nis. Since the morning of 28 November 1999 the district heating system in Nis is reported to be operating again.