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Yugoslavia: Montenegrin Official Emphasizes Free Speech

By Tito Singh

Athens, 27 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A Montenegrin official has drawn fresh distinctions between his republic and Serbia -- its larger partner in Federal Yugoslavia -- on the issue of respecting freedom of the press and speech.

Montenegrin government press secretary Bozidar Jaredic told a press conference in Athens yesterday (Jan. 25) that "Montenegro doesn't blindly follow Belgrade's orders. It is a democratic state and not a puppet." He added that Montenegrin officials "believe in freedom of the press and in a parliamentary democracy."

He made his comments at the Foreign Press Association's offices in downtown Athens during a four-day visit accompanied by Montenegro's Merchant Marine and Transportation Minister, Yusuf Kaloperovic.

Jaredic said that his government is doing all it can to circumvent Belgrade's restrictions on foreign press correspondents and the distribution of Western periodicals. He said his government is also not cooperating with Serbia in restricting international broadcasters.

Jaredic said that the availability of international press "will provide an objective view and allow [Montenegro] to come closer to the international community".

Jaredic emphasized that Montenegro and its people do not have differences with Serbia or the Serbian people, adding that they want to contribute and remain part of Yugoslavia. He said: "It's with Belgrade's policy that we are at odds, which in turn is at odds with the rest of the international community."

In response to a question on Kosovo, Jaredic, who in the past worked in Pristina as a radio journalist, reiterated that his government favors an expanded autonomy for the troubled Serb province but absolutely no change of its borders or independence.

He called Kosovo a "multifaceted problem" and said "there needs to be more room made for moderate interlocutors, and with a guarantee of human rights for all citizens." He said that the separatist ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) is not playing a constructive role in efforts to reach a peaceful resolution in Kosovo.

He also emphasized that Montenegro will not become embroiled in the conflict.

Jaredic said that Western sanctions on the whole of Yugoslavia were taking a severe toll on his republic's economy and development, with only about 20 percent of the adult workforce among a population of about 650,000 residents in Montenegro fully employed.

Merchant Marine and Transportation Minister Kaloperovic spoke about Podgorica's interest in re-establishing a ferryboat route between the largest Montenegrin port of Bar and any port in western Greece. Kalaperovic is a former mayor of Bar.

Prior to the press conference, he held talks at the Greek Merchant Marine Ministry, stressing his government's willingness to promote shipping and maritime cooperation with Greece and Greek ship owners. Kaloperovic also said Montenegro is interested in an air link with Greece.