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Yugoslavia: Montenegro Sets Conditions For Relationship With Serbia

Prague, 1 June 1999 (RFE/R) -- Montenegro's embattled President Milo Djukanovic is setting conditions for his republic's relationship with Serbia once the international community reaches a peace agreement with Belgrade and NATO air strikes and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo end.

In an interview over the weekend in Podgorica with RFE/RL South Slavic Service reporter Slavica Brajovic, Djukanovic appears more confident than he has in recent weeks that he and his pro-European policies will survive politically.

During the first 70 days of NATO air strikes, Djukanovic has successfully weathered considerable pressure by the Milosevic regime in Belgrade and the Yugoslav Second Army in Montenegro.

Djukanovic says Serbia must understand Montenegro as a partner that wants to remain in the partnership provided its interests will be respected.

The Montenegrin president says that in the "post-conflict period," Serbia's spiritual and political sectors should undergo a "certain cleansing" to enable the Serbian political scene to live in a single, clearly defined union with Montenegro. But Djukanovic warns that to the extent that there will be no such interest and that Belgrade will want to continue to preach to Montenegro, then, he says, "clearly such a union will not last long."

Djukanovic quotes from the Yugoslav Constitution which refers to Montenegro as a sovereign state which by its own free will subordinates a portion of its authority to the federal government. But he insists there are no limits on defining the sovereignty of Montenegrin statehood. In his words, "just as Montenegro has offered this" measure of sovereignty, it can take it back.

Djukanovic says his government has drawn up what he terms a "sober, wise and prudent concept," which he says satisfies the ambitions of the democratic majority of Montenegrins, enabling them to decide "whether Montenegro is to be an independent state or a component of some other state."

"The basic question for me is whether Montenegro will want to succeed in realizing its strategic, national, and state-policy priorities. These are that we build Montenegro as an open, multiethnic and democratic society, and that reforms will be carried out in Montenegro which will raise the standard of living in our republic, and third that we ensure that Montenegro in the frame of the Yugoslav Federal Republic will integrate into the developed part of Europe."

But Djukanovic openly wonders whether Montenegro can realize its own interests together with Serbia within Yugoslavia ensuring for Montenegro what he terms the "framework of a state of law with all comforts."

"If this proves to be impossible, as unfortunately has been the case until now as the result of the activities of (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic's dictatorship, then independently of the international factor, I'd say Montenegro would not be inclined to sacrifice its strategic and national priorities in the interest of being in the Yugoslav union."

Djukanovic notes while Montenegro voted in a referendum in 1992 in favor of remaining in the Yugoslav federation, in his words, "this is not our absolute interest." He adds that if Montenegro's interest to be a part of Yugoslavia negates its interests in democracy, economic prosperity and what he terms a "pro-European path," then the small republic will have to take the road to independence. However, he rules out any risky undertaking, stressing the need for domestic and regional stability. Thus if Montenegro opts for independence, Djukanovic suggests, it would be through a referendum on Montenegro's future status rather than an armed insurrection.

The Montenegrin president commented on the Hague Tribunal's indictment last week of Milosevic, saying it is up to the court to determine whether war crimes were committed in Kosovo and if so assign responsibility, regardless of whether a suspect occupies a state function or not.