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Balkan Report: February 24, 1999

24 February 1999, Volume 3, Number 8

Montenegro Defies General Staff. General Dragoljub Ojdanic, who is chief of the General Staff, told officers in Belgrade on February 21 that "if we lose Kosovo, we'll lose Serbia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and our freedom, which is most sacred to us." He added that he hopes that negotiators can reach a peaceful political settlement at the Rambouillet talks, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The general stressed, however, that the army is prepared to fight if unnamed foreign powers attach to any treaty what he called "unacceptable" conditions, such as the stationing of foreign troops in the province. Ojdanic pointed out that the army is prepared to "respond to force with force" if foreign troops arrive in Kosova.

The Montenegrin government, for its part, said in a statement on February 20 that it will not allow the Yugoslav military to use Montenegrin territory for "actions against the NATO alliance." The statement added that the government's "duty is to protect its citizens." The following day, top officials of the Second Army Command and the navy said in a statement in Podgorica that the government's decision is "unconstitutional and damaging to national defense." The statement added that "units of the Second Army and the navy will decisively and professionally carry out all tasks in defense against aggression and in defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

Izetbegovic Wants Sepecial Status for Sandzak. Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic told the weekly "Ljiljan" that he wants the Sandzak region to have what he called a "special status" within federal Yugoslavia as part of a "solution of regional problems in the Balkans." He stressed that Sandzak does not want to leave the Yugoslav federation. Sandzak, which was known in Ottoman times as the Sandzak of Novi Pazar, has a slight Muslim majority. It has been divided between Serbia and Montenegro since the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. Muslim spokesmen charge that paramilitary forces attempted to carry out "ethnic cleansing" in Sandzak at the time of the Bosnian war. Sandzak links Kosova and Bosnia, and its Muslims have close historical, political and cultural links to their fellow Muslims in Bosnia.

Gligorov's Red Herring. Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov said in Skopje on February 13 that the UCK must be disbanded as part of a settlement in Kosova. If it is not, he warned, "it can be used in other regions inhabited by Albanians, such as Montenegro, Macedonia, or Greece, which could cause an all-out Balkan conflict." Observers noted that there is little, if any, interest among ethnic Albanians in those three countries in an armed rebellion. The observers suggested that the increasingly outspoken Gligorov, who is close to the opposition Social Democrats but whose own office is largely ceremonial, hopes to weaken the governing coalition by exacerbating tensions between Albanians and Slavs. The coalition includes a Macedonian nationalist party and an Albanian nationalist one. Reuters reported on February 14 that several ethnic Albanian politicians criticized Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev for recently referring to the UCK as a "terrorist organization."

All the News That's Fit to Print. The Belgrade daily "Politika," which is the most important newspaper controlled by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, wrote on February 15 that the U.S. seeks to conduct "genocide against the Serbian people." The daily added: "It is not true that our country is not capable of disarming and eliminating a terrorist group," by which it meant the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). The article concluded that the Rambouillet talks "reveal that the real aim of America is to occupy part of the European continent under the excuse that [Washington] is imposing peace." The previous day, "Politika" charged that Albright is "playing the Albanians' game" at Rambouillet and called the UCK "road bandits, murderers, and kidnappers."

Not to be outdone, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party issued a statement on February 20 in which it called on all Serbs to prepare for "a possible onslaught by bloodthirsty American lunatics, and defend what our ancestors managed to preserve in blood."

Quotations of the Week: Unnamed "senior American official" in Paris to Reuters on February 14, commenting on how the U.S. would be able to resist public pressure for intervention in Kosova if the Kosovars do not sign an agreement and the Serbs renew the massacres of civilians: "We'll just ignore [the television pictures]. The 'CNN factor' is overrated. It's only when we respond to the pictures that there's a consequence to them. We create the CNN factor, not CNN, or the public or the warring parties."

Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov to the Foreign and Defense Policy Council in Moscow on February 13: "If the use of force appears on the scene [ in Kosova], it will be 20 times worse than what happened in Iraq," Interfax reported.