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Yugoslavia: Montenegro Moves To Take Control of Airports

  • Jolyon Naegele

The Montenegrin government -- in a further move aimed at gaining equal rights with the other Yugoslav republic, Serbia -- took action today to take over the republic's four airports. Our correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports.

Prague, 21 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Montenegrin cabinet today agreed on measures to take control of the country's airports from the Yugoslav state airline JAT (Jugoslovenski Aerotransport).

The independent Montenegrin daily Vijesti -- in a front-page story today -- says Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic's cabinet will establish a new airport authority (Aerodromi Crne Gore). The authority will take over ownership of the republic's four airports -- Podgorica, Tivat, Berane and Zabljak -- except for those sectors of the airports operated by the Yugoslav Army.

The move will take effect as soon as it is published in the Montenegrin official record (Sluzbeni list Crne Gore), in all likelihood on Saturday.

After the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, the Serbian parliament unilaterally declared JAT to be a Serbian rather than a Yugoslav federal enterprise and reaffirmed the airline's control over civilian airports in rump Yugoslavia.

The federal Constitutional Court has failed to respond to a Montenegrin government request filed more than three years ago to revoke the Serbian parliament's decree on JAT.

Podgorica airport and adjacent fuel storage facilities suffered extensive damage from NATO air strikes earlier this year. The airport remains out of service.

Berane and Zabljak are small airfields in Montenegro's mountainous north. This leaves Tivat on the coast as the sole functioning commercial airport in Montenegro.

At present, Tivat operates seven flights a day to Belgrade, by JAT and Montenegro Airlines, and two flights a week each to Ljubljana and Skopje by Montenegro Airlines, which pays JAT for use of the airport.

Tivat is located on a narrow peninsula between the sea and the Gulf of Kotor at the foot of 1,749-meter Mount Lovcen. Safety concerns have been raised about Tivat. A large garbage dump adjacent to the airport -- in addition to being unsightly -- has attracted large flocks of birds, which are hampering air traffic. Moreover, Vijesti quotes Tivat airport director Nikola Mesrovic as saying metal waste at the dump is interfering with sensitive air navigation equipment.

Air traffic at Tivat is likely to undergo a rapid expansion shortly, albeit of only limited duration, pending the reopening of Podgorica's airport.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday called on the European Commission to draw up specific proposals to lift the embargo on air traffic to Serbia and Montenegro and to exempt Montenegro and Kosovo -- to the extent possible -- from an oil embargo, while keeping such an embargo in place against the rest of Serbia.

Once the EU embargo is lifted, Montenegro Airlines -- which has just two aircraft (Dutch-made Fokker-28 jets) -- expects to resume flights to Zurich and Budapest and open service to other European cities.

Rail transportation between Serbia and Montenegro remains cut off at least in part due to damaged caused by NATO air strikes. At present, the rail line south from Belgrade is only open as far as Uzice and from Podgorica north as far as Bijelo Polje. A winding 150-km stretch of railway across southwestern Serbia, a small stretch of eastern Bosnia and northeastern Montenegro remain out of service due to a bombed-out railroad bridge. But Montenegrin railroad authorities say the 60-km stretch north from Bijelo Polje to Prijepolje is undamaged and should be reopened, but allege that Serbian railroad officials have been uncommunicative.

Although Belgrade early this month dismantled its military blockade of all land and sea routes into Montenegro, set up in mid-May, tensions between the two republics continue as Montenegro seeks to redefine its political status.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said earlier this month that Montenegro must make a new agreement with Serbia on joint institutions in the areas of defense, foreign and monetary policies.

A senior official of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists says Montenegro will most probably give Serbia until the beginning of September to take a stance regarding the Montenegrin platform for redefinition of the relations within the federal state.

Vojin Djukanovic said in an interview this week with the Belgrade daily Blic that if the representatives of parliamentary parties in Serbia accept the Montenegrin platform, then in his words, "This will mean that reason has prevailed and that they care about the preservation of the federation." If, however, the Serbs reject the Montenegrin platform, he says this would mean they do not care about Montenegro, and they want to turn Serbia back into a provincial backwater.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Vujanovic -- on a visit yesterday to the largest Bosnian Serb city, Banja Luka -- reiterated that if ongoing talks with Serbian MPs on redefining Montenegro's status fail, the republic will hold a referendum on its "state-legal status."

The sanctions, the aftermath of the airstrikes and ongoing political tensions between Montenegro and Serbia continue to contribute to Montenegro's physical and economic isolation.

Revenue from tourism this year is only a tiny fraction of the level of previous years, despite widespread discounts on accommodations. Montenegro's Adriatic beaches this summer are largely empty. Many hotels have not even opened for the season.

The Montenegrin tourist industry has not invested in modernization or expansion since 1990, the last year of peace before the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia began. In recent years, Serbs were virtually the only tourists to be found on Montenegro's beaches, and now even they are largely absent.

The pro-Milosevic Serbian news media has discouraged Serbs -- traditionally the largest group of holiday-makers -- from spending their summer vacations in Montenegro this year. Hotels and pensions are reporting their worst season in several decades.

The government and tourist industry managers see their only short-term hope in attracting Slovenes and Bosnians and have sent a delegation to Ljubljana, Banja Luka, and Sarajevo in the hope of drumming up interest.