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Montenegro: Pro-Democracy Politicians Address Pros And Cons Of International Monitors

  • Jolyon Naegele

Yugoslavia's smaller republic of Montenegro continues to face challenges in its bid to achieve sovereignty and self-determination. This week the Yugoslav army established control points and barricades near the recently reopened sole border crossing with Albania. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Podgorica on the possibility of deploying international observers in Montenegro.

Podgorica, 2 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The idea of deploying several hundred international monitors in Montenegro came up on the sidelines of an international conference in Podgorica this week. The conference was convened as a dialogue between Montenegrin and Serbian pro-democracy politicians and activists to address constitutional differences.

Montenegro has been Serbia's increasingly unwilling partner in the Yugoslav Federal Republic, founded eight years ago after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Montenegro is now on the road to sovereignty, with an increasingly democratic legislature, new reform laws and its own Western-oriented foreign policy. But Montenegro is rump Yugoslavia's sole outlet to the sea, and a potential hard currency earner through tourism and maritime trade. Those industries brought in some $320 million a year a decade ago, but now are virtually nonexistent.

The head of one of Montenegro's three ruling pro-democracy parties, Social Democrat Zarko Rakcevic, says that as long as Montenegro fails to gain international recognition as a sovereign state, it will be unable to borrow on int. financial markets to rebuild its industry. Western support for Montenegro, he says, has been laudatory but devoid of investment.

"As far as we are concerned, by establishing its basic rights, Montenegro is not provoking Milosevic since this is our right to self-determination. Part of [our] society may want to live in a close community with Serbia. We have to do what is in our fundamental interest. But Montenegro cannot accept the task of democratizing Serbia."

Rakcevic says he hopes the international community changes its position toward Montenegro and accepts Montenegro's basic right to national self -determination -- the right to separate its fate from Serbia, as he puts it. That, he believes, would prevent a repetition of recent tragic experiences in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. He says Montenegro is the best example that Orthodox, Catholics, and Muslims can live together in harmony.

Rakcevic, a Montenegrin parliamentarian, says the solution is to take preventive action in the field of security by deploying observers before trouble starts:

"We want to say that if the international community really recognizes Montenegro as a positive example, please help us now. Please understand us now. We think that, for example, with 200 [international] monitors here, [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic will decide completely differently."

Rakcevic says deploying monitors would be a clear sign to Milosevic to cease his destabilization of Montenegro, which has included an economic blockade and the setting up of Yugoslav TV transmitters on Yugoslav military bases. But Rakcevic warned that if the international community waits until after Milosevic puts military and paramilitary pressure on Montenegro, it will be too late.

A senior official with the international community's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, Finnish diplomat Alpo Rusi, told RFE/RL the international community is coming around to the idea that deploying monitors in Montenegro would make sense.

"I think, yes, it cannot be ruled out, and I would like to see this type of monitoring to be set up through the OSCE or otherwise in case it is commonly accepted. But it is in my own thinking a clear-cut view that this country should have now this type of instrument, like a monitoring mission. And we should discuss this matter further."

Rusi notes that although Yugoslavia is barred from the Stability Pact for now, Montenegro is in practice functioning as a member state of the pact. But he says that putting together a monitoring mission for Montenegro is not yet a part of the pact's official brief.

The UN deployed observers along Macedonia's border with Kosovo and Serbia more than six years ago, and their presence -- including that of several hundred U.S. soldiers -- is one of the reasons Milosevic never started trouble with Macedonia.

In contrast, however, the EU's deployment in 1991 of a European military monitoring mission in Croatia after the fighting and ethnic cleansing had begun -- while providing the West with military intelligence -- had little effect. Serbian forces soon shot down a mission helicopter. and the mission did little if anything to hold back the fighting.

Similarly, the presence of UN peacekeepers from UNPROFOR in Bosnia did not prevent the systematic destruction by Serbian forces of the areas that the UN had designated safe havens. Nor did it deter Serbian forces from carrying out the massacres of some 7,000 men near one of the so-called "safe havens," Srebrenica, in 1995.

Later, an unarmed OSCE mission in Kosovo was slow in deploying, never reached full capacity and was soon forced to withdraw after Serbian forces made its job impossible and the launching of NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia last Spring inevitable. Since the Serbian capitulation and withdrawal from Kosovo last June, the international community has failed to deploy anywhere near the agreed-upon number of NATO-led peacekeepers and UN civilian police in Kosovo. That is true despite the worsening situation in Mitrovica and along Kosovo's eastern border with Serbia.

So it is far from clear whether sufficient willingness can be developed to deploy observers in Montenegro. The issue poses many questions: Would the observers be armed? Would they stand firm or flee in the event of the likely Serbian provocation? And what would the justification for deployment be? Do humanitarian aid convoys bound for Kosovo really require the security of observers in Montenegro when their main obstacles are Kosovo customs agents just over the border. And what would the reaction be of the Yugoslav Second Army based in Montenegro, already in a heightened state of alert, and now manning fresh barricades along Montenegro's sole border crossing with Albania.

Based on the international community's record to date, a deployment of monitors in Montenegro is unlikely to be agreed upon before it is too late.