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Yugoslavia: Belgrade Rejoins UN, Opening Up New Problems

  • Robert McMahon

After eight years in limbo, Yugoslavia has been readmitted as a full member of the United Nations. But the move has raised new questions about the claims for sovereignty by the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro and the Serbian province of Kosovo. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 2 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations has readmitted Yugoslavia as a full member amid hopes that the action will spread stability and strengthen democracy in the Balkans.

The red-star flag of the old communist Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia was lowered for the last time at UN headquarters yesterday (Wednesday) and replaced with the banner of today's Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, or FRY. Earlier, the UN General Assembly voted by acclamation (that is, a demonstration of widespread approval) to readmit Yugoslavia, which has not functioned as a UN member since 1992.

The Assembly had suspended the membership after the secession of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia, saying rump Yugoslavia needed to apply as a new member. The regime of Slobodan Milosevic refused, claiming it was the successor state.

But new President Vojislav Kostunica last week formally applied and yesterday's resolution was supported by the four Yugoslav successor states. France's ambassador to the UN, Jean-David Levitte, last night introduced the resolution on the FRY's admission, applauding Kostunica's decision to break with what Levitte called the "dead-end policy" of the Milosevic regime.

"This evening, an important step will be taken towards reconciliation, stability, and peace in a region that has been marked by so many trials." A special envoy of President Kostunica, Goran Svilanovic, expressed gratitude to UN members and paid tribute to Yugoslav voters for showing the courage to change leadership. He pledged Belgrade's cooperation to resolve the deep problems accumulated over the last 10 years. "I take this opportunity to make some assurances to all of you and in particular to our neighbors and their governments. Yugoslavia is aware of these problems and is willing and ready to work with its neighbors and the international community to overcome them. Yugoslavia will be a trusted neighbor and conscientious member of the international community and will invest its best efforts to promote peace and stability in the region as well as worldwide."

Yugoslavia needs to resolve a number of issues before engaging in full UN activities. For one, it has accumulated arrears in membership dues of more than $8 million and will need to settle them before receiving voting rights in the Assembly.

As a full member, too, it will be required to cooperate with UN institutions such as the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where Milosevic and other Yugoslav officials face indictment.

Another looming question is what exactly the FRY will represent. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said on Montenegrin TV this week that Yugoslavia's two republics should each have a UN seat and should function as a loose union of two internationally recognized states.

Montenegro's chief representative in New York, Zeljko Perovic, told our correspondent yesterday that the proposed association would leave defense, foreign relations, and monetary policy under FRY control. But he said on defense issues, there would be two supreme commanders, one in Podgorica and the other in Belgrade.

Perovic reiterated Djukanovic's comments, saying Montenegrin sovereignty has stretched too far in recent years to be scaled back under a reconstituted Yugoslavia. But he stressed that Djukanovic's government is cooperating with the new FRY authorities to find a mutually-acceptable governing framework.

The question of Kosovo's status may also need to be resolved soon. Security Council resolution 1244, which created a UN protectorate in Kosovo, provides for "substantial autonomy" for the province within Yugoslavia. But a year of relative independence from Belgrade's control has strengthened the call for independence from Kosovo Albanian leaders, both moderate and hard-line.

Russia and other Security Council members support the FRY's sovereignty over Kosovo. But the United States says the question of eventual independence will need to be considered by the Council.

U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke affirmed this in comments to reporters at UN headquarters earlier this week.

"Resolution 1244 does not preclude independence as a possible outcome. Now, some of our friends on the Security Council don't agree with that position. They think the issue is settled. But the United States' position is that it doesn't preclude independence."

UN officials acknowledge that complex issues lie ahead but they are hopeful of solutions now that negotiations are taking place in a democratic framework.

The UN's assistant secretary-general for political affairs, former Slovene diplomat Danilo Turk, said yesterday that the lingering sovereignty questions in the FRY will not be solved overnight.

"This will require some time but let us not forget that there was a decade of a period in which nothing was resolved and problems were only accumulating, So I think one has to be patient -- and one has to take a few months -- to address some of these difficult issues."

Turk told reporters that the first priority for the United Nations will be to provide humanitarian assistance to Yugoslavia followed by economic assistance. He said yesterday's vote would provide a huge boost to the FRY's democratic movement, showing that democratic change is quick to be recognized and rewarded by the international community.

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