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Yugoslavia: Pressure Rises In Montenegro

  • Alexandra Poolos

A top Montenegrin security adviser was shot dead last night. It is the first murder of a prominent Montenegrin official after a series of high-profile killings in Serbia. The murder comes just 11 days before local elections. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos looks at the rising pressure on Montenegro to stop its defiance of federal Yugoslavia.

Prague, 1 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A new crack in Montenegro's fragile stability broke last night with the murder of President Milo Djukanovic's security adviser and close friend.

Goran Zugic was shot dead close to midnight by an unknown gunman in the capital of the pro-Western Yugoslav republic. His body was found in the yard of his high-rise apartment building near the city's main marketplace. Police have blocked off the area and launched a search for the attacker.

The style of the assassination is similar to several such murders in the larger Yugoslav republic of Serbia over the past year.

Zugic was known as Djukanovic's closest and most reliable aide and has been his national security adviser for two years.

Locals and internationals alike are speculating that the murder could be a signal to Djukanovic that he might be next. There is no way of telling immediately whether Zugic's killing was ordered by Yugoslav authorities at odds with Djukanovic. But analysts say the murder contributes to the increasing pressure on the pro-Western Montenegrin government, which has been distancing itself from its federal relationship with Serbia.

Rifat Rastoder, a deputy speaker of Montenegro's parliament, blames the Yugoslav regime for the killing. "It is a direct and desperate attempt to transfer Serbia's shotgun policies to Montenegro and create conditions for the imposition of a state of emergency and dictatorship."

Even Socialist People's Party leader Miroslav Vickovic, whose party opposes Djukanovic's government and just invited Milosevic to visit Montenegro, expressed his fear over the crime.

"We are frightened but not surprised by the murder, because we have said many times that Podgorica will become the next Belgrade. Both in Podgorica and in Belgrade the thin red line between politics and crime has disappeared."

Gareth Evans is a Montenegrin expert and the president of the International Crisis Group, a private multinational organization that advises government officials on international trouble spots. Evans believes that Zugic's murder is a serious development that raises concerns that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may act to violently overthrow Djukanovic's government.

"We know that the Djukanovic government is absolutely an anathema to the Belgrade regime. It's democratic, it's multiethnic, it's reformist, it's pro-Western. For the past few months it's been increasingly obviously that Milosevic wants it out, that he's been harassing it with increasing intensity -- the economic blockades and so on. And that he has the military resources to overthrow it -- not only through the Yugoslav army itself, but through the extra battalions of territorials that he's put together for that possible purpose. There is a very real concern that Montenegro could become the fifth war of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. We have to give credence to that."

Evans says that the animosity between Djukanovic and Milosevic has risen substantially over the past year. Djukanovic, who has been edging Montenegro away from Belgrade's influence, has threatened a referendum on independence if Milosevic refuses to reform the Serb-dominated federation.

Milosevic's government accuses Djukanovic of acting on Western orders to try to break up what remains of Yugoslavia.

Evans says that Djukanovic is in a particularly tricky situation, with local elections coming up that will prove a test of his popularity. Djukanovic must also contend with an impending visit by Milosevic, who was invited by the Socialist People's Party, a Montenegrin opposition party that maintains close ties with Belgrade.

Evans says now is the time for the West to deliver a strong message of support to Djukanovic to prevent the outbreak of war in the small Yugoslav republic.

"It's very important that the West act appropriately to this by giving the strongest possible support to Djukanovic. Economically, which is largely already happened, politically through high-level visits and shows and statements of support. And also in our judgement -- the International Crisis Group -- there ought to be a straight-out security guarantee as well to ensure that Milosevic gets the message that if he does act violently to overthrow the government he has to expect significant military retaliation."

Western leaders, fearful of another Balkan conflict, have advised Djukanovic not to rile Milosevic with an independence vote and to wait out the shaky political situation in Serbia. But Evans says the West should give Milosevic a strong warning. He says even if Yugoslav authorities had nothing to do yesterday's murder, the volatile situation in Montenegro and the threat to its president are still very real.

Western leaders, he says, would be foolish to believe the situation will just go away.