A State Department official traveled to the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro last weekend to meet secretly with leaders of the political opposition to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, sources said.
President Clinton has called on the Serbian people to repudiate Milosevic and his policies, but administration officials denied that the United States is playing an active role in planning or aiding in his removal.
"He's on his way out," said one official. "The point is to solidify the opposition and promote democracy."
Robert Gelbard, the U.S. special envoy to the Balkans, met with Milo Djukanovic, the president of Montenegro, which is the smaller of the two republics that now comprise Yugoslavia. Other participants in the meeting included Zoran Djindjic, president of the tiny Democratic Party in Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic; former Yugoslav prime minister Milan Panic; and Vladan Batic, head of the Alliance for Change, a coalition of Yugoslav opposition groups.
Opposition forces in Yugoslavia have rarely worked closely together, and it is unclear who will succeed Milosevic if he is pushed aside.
One official said Gelbard met with the opposition leaders at their request and held the meeting in Montenegro because it was easier for Gelbard to travel there than for the opposition leaders to meet him outside the Yugoslav federation.
A senior administration official also said that the United States, which last year appropriated $10 million to $15 million to promote democracy in the Yugoslav federation, will direct that money primarily to cities not controlled by Milosevic.
A Serbian newspaper this week reported that the United States had earmarked $9 million to help overthrow Milosevic. In Budapest, Djindjic told reporters that he, Panic, Djukanovic and others met with a foreign representative but "we spoke about politics, we didn't speak about money." Djindjic said the report was an effort to discredit the opposition to Milosevic, Reuters reported.