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Yugoslavia: Group Urges NATO To Block Serbs In Montenegro

  • Andrew Tully

A new report by the International Crisis Group, an independent group of political analysts, warns that Serbia is planning a military takeover of Montenegro, its junior partner in the Yugoslav federation. The organization says the NATO must increase its military presence in the Balkans to keep Serbia in check. But as RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully reports, there is little hope that NATO can act quickly -- if at all.

Washington, 22 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A private group of political analysts is recommending that NATO build up its military presence in the Balkans to prevent a Serbian takeover of Montenegro.

But Gareth Evans, the president of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), says he does not believe the member nations of the NATO can agree to act quickly or forcefully enough to prevent another war in the truncated Yugoslavia, which now includes only Serbia and Montenegro.

Evans, a former foreign minister of Australia, says the thrust of his report -- and the mission of the ICG -- is to prevent a crisis, rather than to react after the fact. He issued his report in Washington Tuesday.

And he says the West must act quickly, because there are signs that Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, the president of the Yugoslav federation, is preparing to move against Montenegro.

He cites recent Yugoslav army movements in and around Montenegro, and Serbia's economic embargo against its junior partner in the federation. And he notes that Milosevic has been cracking down on independent news media in Serbia.

Evans concedes that Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro's president, is not necessarily a perfect democratic leader. But he stresses that he has carefully kept his country's policies independent of Serbia, and for that deserves the world's support.

The ICG president says Djukanovic faces difficult choices. He says Djukanovic can proceed with a threatened referendum on independence, but that would only provoke Milosevic. He says he can keep relations with Serbia as they are, but that would put Montenegro in what he called "limbo." Or, Evans says, he can wait for Milosevic's successor and seek better relations. But he adds that Montenegrins may be too restive for compromise.

Evans president says Montenegro would be quickly defeated if Milosevic decided on a military takeover. Rather, Evans says it is time for the West to intervene. He says Western nations and institutions must give as much economic aid as possible to Montenegro to make it less dependent on Serbia. He also says Europe and the U.S. must increase their governmental and non-governmental presence in Montenegro to show Serbia that Montenegro is important on its own, not just as a part of the Yugoslav federation.

But he says the most important thing the West can do to prevent a fifth Balkan war in a decade is for NATO to increase its military presence in the region to make sure that Milosevic does not make war on Montenegro.

But Evans says he doubts NATO will act before yet another Balkan crisis breaks out.

"This is the dilemma, and this is the one [dilemma] that's shrieking out at us at the moment. It's only some form of catastrophe -- you know, full, frontal challenge, blood in the streets somewhere -- that will generate the response, which if it were generated now could avoid that reoccurrence occurring."

Evans attributes this problem to a variety of factors: a general election in the U.S., an American Congress that is at odds with the president, Bill Clinton, and the large number of governments in Europe that must agree to increasing NATO's military presence in the Balkans.

Jim Goldgeier is a professor of political science at George Washington University in Washington who specializes in NATO. He agrees in an RFE/RL interview that it will be difficult to get the alliance to act militarily to prevent a war in Montenegro.

"The problem right now is that NATO's already having enough trouble getting commitments from allies to put the forces that need to be put in Kosovo. And now to say, 'And now we need to do -- you know, have additional forces available to deal with a potential problem in Montenegro' is going to be -- you know, is going to make the situation that much more difficult."

Evans says NATO should not be concerned about being prepared to intervene militarily in what Milosevic would call an internal affair. He notes that this argument did not stop the alliance from attacking Yugoslavia last year over Kosovo. And he adds that Montenegro looks more like an independent state today than Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina did a few years ago. Goldgeier agreed.

"NATO has basically decided after last year that nothing's simply an internal affair in the Balkans. It already shattered that principle, and it can't go back -- it can't undo what it did and say, 'Well, it's not something we're going to worry about because this is part of Yugoslavia."

But Evans and Goldgeier agree that if the Western alliance does not act quickly, its air war against Yugoslavia last year over Kosovo -- and the peacekeeping efforts it is still conducting in the Serbian province -- will lose credibility with the rest of the world.