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NATO: Montenegro Is Delicate Target For Strikes

Prague, 25 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO is engaged in a delicate balancing act as it seeks to destroy Yugoslav military targets located inside Montenegro without destabilizing the republic's Western-leaning government.

Reports say the alliance hit several targets in Montenegro last night, including a large army barracks in the town of Danilovgrad, an aluminum plant, and areas around Golubovci airport outside the republic's capital, Podgorica. Montenegrin media report that radar installations in the major Adriatic port of Bar and in a nearby smaller town also were destroyed by missiles.

The air strikes against targets in Montenegro -- Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav Federation -- come as the republic's president, Milo Djukanovic, has sought to divorce Montenegro from Belgrade's policy of rejecting the international community's peace plan for Kosovo and confronting NATO.

Djukanovic said in a televised address yesterday that the NATO missile and bombing strikes were "the tragic consequences of an irrational policy of confronting the whole world."

The Montenegrin leader also demanded that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic reverse his policy, and he called on the international community to refrain from further air strikes on both Montenegro and Serbia.

Analysts say that Djukanovic and his moderate government in Montenegro now face a dangerous time as the NATO air strikes on targets within the republic risk raising a backlash of nationalist feelings against the West. Such a backlash could favor Milosevic, who regards Djukanovic as one of his most powerful and dangerous opponents and has long sought opportunities to unseat him.

Patrick Moore -- a Yugoslav analyst with RFE/RL's Newsline service -- says Milosevic could try to fan Serbian and Montenegrins' sense of insecurity amid the air strikes to enable him to accuse politicians who have called for working with the West of being Western agents.

"I think what he would ideally like to do is stage a coup against Djukanovic in the Montenegrin leadership. Another Milosevic tactic is to use street crowds. The third route open to Milosevic after an internal coup or the use of street crowds would be direct military action. Let us say that the conflict over Kosovo with NATO air strikes heats up, Milosevic declares that Djukanovic is actually aiding and abetting the enemy and is a traitor and therefore [Milosevic] will dispatch troops to overthrow him."

But Moore says that Milosevic would face a tough opponent in Djukanovic in any attempt to unseat him. He says Djukanovic long ago won a power struggle against Milosevic's allies in Montenegro and now has iron control over the Montenegrin secret police. Djukanovic also can count on strong support from most Montenegrins to resist any military attempt by hank-picked Serb units to overthrow their republic's leader.

Still, such scenarios offer nightmares to the NATO planners conducting the bombing of Yugoslavias military targets. The extent of the Western powers' fears that Milosevic might find an opportunity to crack down in Montenegro was underscored in Washington yesterday.

U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin specifically warned Milosevic not to retaliate for the NATO strikes by lashing out beyond Yugoslavia's borders or by trying to undermine the pro-Western government of Montenegro.

Rubin warned Milosevic that either action would bring "extremely serious consequences" and said that a Belgrade takeover in Montenegro would destroy the most credible and potential democratic force in the region.

So far, Montenegro has signaled that it is determined n-o-t to be drawn by Milosevic into the conflict with NATO. The republic's government has refused to impose the state of emergency declared by Belgrade two days ago and said it will take measures to ensure its territory will not be used to combat NATO attacks. It has also said that civilian facilities will not be made available to Yugoslav troops.

Djukanovic provided one explanation for this independent policy in a statement last week in which he accused Milosevic of trying to subjugate the Yugoslav army to his own political goals. Milo Djukanovic says:

"Mr. Milosevic -- together with Yugoslav Prime Minister [Momir] Bulatovic -- would like to have the Yugoslav army serve their political party. As long as the Yugoslav army is the army of all of Yugoslavia, it will be welcome in Montenegro."

Moore says that Djukanovic bases his power to steer an independent course in Montenegro upon his ability to appeal to the Montenegrins' sense of individuality from the Serbs and a widespread sense that Milosevic's policies have so far only brought them economic hardship. Patrick Moore says: "Djukanovic has managed to convince a majority of Montenegrin voters that his program is the right one for Montenegro and its interests and this program includes as some of its major points: free trade, opening to the outside world, liberalizing the economy and, in general, raising the standard of living for people."

Differences between Djukanovic and Milosevic came to the surface immediately after the Dayton peace agreement ending the war in Bosnia in 1995. At that time, Djukanovic -- a successful businessman and a leading Montenegrin politician -- began calling for economic reforms to rescue Yugoslavia from poverty after years of international sanctions punishing Belgrade for its support of the Bosnian Serbs.

Djukanovic was elected president of the republic in 1997 after defeating incumbent Momir Bulatovic, a close Milosevic ally and now Yugoslav prime minister. Since then, he has set increasingly independent policies, including trying to take control over Montenegro's own borders and -- without Belgrade's approval -- seeking a more open frontier with Croatia. Montenegro has also set up a trade office in Washington, D.C., to lobby for greater trade between the republic and the West, despite continuing sanctions against Belgrade.

Milosevic has greeted the Montenegrin moves by accusing Djukanovic of wanting to break up what remains of the Yugoslav Federation. But Djukanovic has said he simply wants a Yugoslavia in which both Serbia and Montenegro are equals.

Montenegro has been associated with Serbia throughout much of their histories and its peoples are linked by a common language and orthodox Christian religion. Until this century, the small republic was a separate country with its own crowned ruler.

Montenegro joined with Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia to form the Kingdom of Yugoslavia after the First World War and has not sought to secede from Belgrade during the breakup of Yugoslavia, which began early this decade.