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Yugoslav Net access salvaged

Human rights advocates are relieved to hear that the Clinton administration has no plans to cut off Net access in Yugoslavia.

Human rights advocates were relieved today to hear that the Clinton administration has no plans to cut off Net access in Yugoslavia.

Word traveled quickly last week that based on an executive order, Loral Space and Communications was planning to halt satellite transmissions into Yugoslavia, which would have knocked offline the country's major Internet access providers, such as BeoNet.

But State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin said the order, which went into effect May 1, doesn't apply to Net access or communications service providers.

"There is no truth to allegations that we are attempting to cut off the flow of information to Serbia," Rubin said during a press briefing on Friday. "While the executive order prescribes commerce with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, information and access to information are exempted from such sanctions."

Although the order states that officials can "give special consideration to the humanitarian needs of refugees from Kosovo and other civilians," the embargo prevents U.S. companies from trading "any goods, software, or technology, including technical data or services," with Yugoslavia.

There are no figures on the number of Net users among Yugoslavia's population of 11 million, but traffic has increased since the conflict between Yugoslav security forces and ethnic Albanians prompted NATO air strikes.

People are using the Net to access information from within the country about the bombings. However, some protest sites, such as the popular Belgrade Net broadcaster B92, were shut down by Yugoslavia the day NATO bombing began.

Rubin said the White House supports unfettered Net communication in Yugoslavia.

"The Serbian people deserve to access independent and objective information, whether by the Internet or other media," he said.

U.S. activists were reassured by the White House stance.

"The Internet remains one of the major sources of independent news reporting and information in Serbia, and is one of the main means for democratic opponents of Milosevic to communicate with the outside world," Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst for Center for Democracy and Technology, said in a statement.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.