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Yugoslavia: Tensions Rise in Montenegro And Kosovo

Prague, 9 January 98 (RFE/RL) -- Policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic have recently led to a dramatic rise in tensions in Montenegro and Kosovo. The question is whether the outcome will be violent.

Milosevic enters 1998 with a major political difficulty in Serbia out of the way. The victory of his ally Milan Milutinovic in last month's Serbian presidential vote ensures that the Serbian government will do Milosevic's bidding for the next several years. Milutinovic's ultra-nationalist opponent, Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, will continue to be a major figure in Serbian politics but well away from the levers of power.

Three other potential sources of trouble for Milosevic nonetheless remain, beginning with the power struggle among the Bosnian Serbs. The hard-liners loyal to Radovan Karadzic are blocking attempts by Prime Minister-designate Mladen Ivanic -- the nominee of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic -- to form a government of technocrats with all-party support.

It seems clear, however, that neither Bosnian Serb faction is strong enough to decisively defeat the other. The stalemate is likely to continue for some time, which will enable Milosevic to use the divide-and-rule tactics he has often applied in his dealings with quarrelsome Serbian politicians in Croatia and Bosnia. Ivanic told RFE/RL recently that the current political in-fighting among the Bosnian Serbs reminds him very much of the debilitating political struggle among the Croatian Serbs shortly before the fall of the Republika Srpska Krajina in 1995.

The Yugoslav president faces a situation in his second trouble spot, Montenegro, that could pose a more direct threat to his power than does the imbroglio among the Bosnian Serbs. Montenegro and Serbia form the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and an independent-minded Montenegrin government could undermine his plans to strengthen his presidential powers at the expense of the individual republics.

His ally in Podgorica, outgoing President Momir Bulatovic, lost the October 19 presidential vote to Milo Djukanovic. The new president wants autonomy from Belgrade and an end to international sanctions, which have crippled the tiny mountain republic's tourist and shipping industries. Djukanovic argues that Milosevic wants to run Montenegro like a colony and that his policies are responsible for the hated sanctions.

Milosevic seems unwilling to accept the result of the Montenegrin vote and has turned up the pressure on Djukanovic in the runup to the January 15 Montenegrin presidential inauguration. The pro-Milosevic media have sought to intimidate Djukanovic, whom they wrongly accuse of seeking outright independence for Montenegro. The Belgrade courts, for their part, have questioned the validity of the October vote.

More seriously, there have been strong suggestions from the Bulatovic camp that Bulatovic supporters may resort to violence rather than yield power to their rivals. Djukanovic and the pro-reform Montenegrin government expect Milosevic to use his time-honored tactic of bussing in well-paid, armed demonstrators from outside Montenegro to intimidate the new government or even to prevent it from taking office.

It is not clear, however, whether Milosevic is prepared to use violence to keep Bulatovic in office, or whether he is simply trying to bully Djukanovic. The Belgrade daily "Nasa Borba" wrote on January 7 that Milosevic has accepted defeat and plans to name Bulatovic as Yugoslav foreign minister. But Djukanovic's allies in the Montenegrin government are taking the hard-liners' threats of violence seriously. The reformers have also promised to stage a referendum on independence if Milosevic tries to end Montenegro's constitutional equality with Serbia in the federation.

The third problem on Milosevic's agenda is Kosovo. He has kept the restive mainly ethnic Albanian province under tight police control since he abolished its autonomy in 1989. The moderate Albanian leadership under shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova, for its part, continues to advocate non-violence and seeks foreign support. Rugova has, however, achieved nothing in his quest to restore Kosovo's autonomy.

Over the past year, however, the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), has become bolder in its attacks on government and police buildings, Serbian officials, and ethnic Albanians whom the UCK considers collaborators. Many observers report that the UCK has captured the imagination in particular of young Kosovars, who regard Rugova's policies as having reached a dead end.

The UCK, moreover, may have won political and military as well as psychological victories. On November 28, some of its uniformed, armed members felt confident enough to deliver a political speech in public. On January 4, the UCK issued a declaration to say that the armed struggle for the liberation of Kosovo and its unification with Albania has begun. And Belgrade's BETA news agency reported this week that the town of Srbica and some other areas are now firmly in UCK hands, at least at night.

There may be signs, however, that Milosevic is planning to intervene in Kosovo with massive force, as he did in Croatia in 1991 and in Bosnia in 1992. Some media reports suggest that the departure of Serbian police from Srbica and several other communities in Kosovo could be a prelude to an intervention by the Yugoslav army or by paramilitaries like Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as "Arkan." The military or Arkan might claim real or imagined UCK violence as a pretext for making war on the local Albanian population and conducting a policy of "ethnic cleansing."