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Yugoslavia: Montenegro Seeks Amicable Solution With Serbs

By Jolyon Neagele

With the crisis in Kosovo easing, concerns are still pronounced about the fate of Montenegro. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Neagele looks at issues looming in the relationship between Belgrade and Podgorica.

Prague, 7 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Montenegro, the smaller partner in the rump Yugoslav federation with Serbia, is pressing for a change in its status. The republic's pro-western leaders are demanding Montenegro be respected as an equal partner in the federation. Otherwise, they say, Montenegro will hold a referendum on independence.

No one has yet publicly described the move as an ultimatum. Belgrade is willing to talk but unlikely to agree to Montenegrin demands.

The chairman of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, Miodrag Vukovic, says Montenegrin leaders will hold separate meetings over the next two weeks in Podgorica with representatives of Serbian parliamentary parties, including the three parties in the ruling Serbian coalition.

Vukovic confirms that the ruling Serb parties -- Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, the Yugoslav Left led by Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic and Vojislav Seselj's ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party -- have all agreed to attend the talks. But he says he has no illusions that all the Serbian parliamentary parties will accept Montenegro's proposal for an "equality pact" that would reorganize relations between Montenegro and Serbia.

Vukovic says Montenegro wants to turn the Yugoslav party state into a state ruled by law, the dictatorship into a democracy and an isolated state into one fully integrated in the world community.

To achieve these goals, changes would have to be made in the way the federal justice ministry and the Yugoslav army function in Montenegro.

Vukovic expressed his doubts about the likelihood of an agreement in an interview last night with RFE/RL's South Slavic Service:

"So what would happen? What about the 20 deputies Belgrade has appointed to represent Montenegro? What would happen with the group of usurpers calling itself the federal government? The federal parliament and the federal government should be split 50/50 between Montenegro and Serbia -- this could be acceptable as a workable solution until a possible new state agreement between Montenegro and Serbia."

Vukovic says "cosmetic changes" proposed so far by Belgrade are unacceptable, suggesting that Milosevic is the biggest obstacle to workable ties between Serbia and Montenegro.

"If the whole world says 'no' to Milosevic, then on account of Serbia and the nation if he cannot very quickly put the country on the road to democracy, grant power to people who think democratically, enable the federal parliament to rehabilitate itself through an agreement, then Milosevic ought to go. The Montenegrin members of the federal parliament should resign. We would see how the federal MPs from Serbia would respond, if they respond with a total blockade [of Montenegro] there would be no more Yugoslavia. If the federal government is revamped and headed by a prime minister from my party or from the ruling Montenegrin coalition, it would request that Milosevic return his constitutional functions and would grant him the income of a pensioner.... Milosevic would certainly not accept this and would renew the blockade and there would be no more Yugoslavia."

Montenegro accounts for barely five percent of Yugoslavia's economy and territory. According to the last census conducted in 1991, the republic had a population of 617,000, of whom 61.7 percent were Montenegrins, 9.3 percent Serbs, 14.5 percent Muslims, 6.5 percent Albanians and eight percent "others".

Like Vukovic, Montenegrin President Djukanovic says his government's proposed formula for restructuring the federal system would ensure the survival of the Yugoslav federation while satisfying Montenegro's needs. In his words, "if Serbia also agrees to follow the pro-democracy, pro-Europe path...we could proceed together in the same country, in Yugoslavia". But he warns that if Serbia decides to continue along what he terms "the path of retrograde policies and anti-Europeanism, Montenegro will be forced to follow the path its people have already chosen".

On a visit to the northwestern Montenegrin industrial town of Niksic last week, Djukanovic said that more than 50 percent of the population in Montenegro wants a redefinition of relations with Serbia. In his words, "we never joined Yugoslavia to be tortured by the other federal state" -- a reference to frequent interference in Montenegrin affairs by the Yugoslav military and the federal judiciary.

Djukanovic said prosperity is impossible to achieve in Montenegro because of obstacles set by federal authorities. He called for disbanding the federal administration, while modifying a few remaining joint institutions, including defense, foreign and monetary policy. In the Montenegrin President's words, "we no longer have a federal state; parliament and government are nonexistent; there is only Milosevic who rules to the extent allowed by us here in Montenegro". Djukanovic demanded that each republic be in charge of troops on its territory, while the federal state should be responsible for overall defense issues. He also reiterated that Montenegro will cooperate with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, a statement sure to anger Milosevic, who along with four other senior Belgrade officials has been indicted for war crimes by the tribunal.

In Belgrade, the head of the semi-opposition Serbian Renewal Movement Vuk Draskovic, told reporters yesterday the current federal prime minister, Djukanovic's arch-rival and predecessor Momir Bulatovic, must resign "in the interests of the federal state and of the people." Draskovic says the federal state can only be preserved if Djukanovic's party gets the federal prime minister's post and its seats in the upper house of the federal parliament.

But some voices in Montenegro oppose any deal with Belgrade. They include Srdjan Darmanovic, the head of the Center for Democracy, a Montenegrin non governmental organization. Commenting on the possibilities of restructuring the federal government, he insists neither Montenegro's political authorities nor its citizens are willing to participate in the current Yugoslav union.

The chairman of the Montenegrin Pen Club, Jakov Mrvaljevic, says separating Serbia and Montenegro would be the "humane" thing to do as this would in his words, "strike a blow at the extremely retrograde and aggressive ideology" of what he terms "the despotic, fascist regime of Slobodan Milosevic". Mrvaljevic says keeping Serbia and Montenegro together would be a destabilizing factor in the Balkans as it would only contribute to what he called the "mythic, irrational, chauvinist ideology of Greater Serbia". The Pen Club leader says Montenegro, as the oldest recognized state of ex-Yugoslavia, has a right to full independence and to be a part of European integration.

Late last week, NATO Supreme Commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, said evidence exists that Milosevic has been reinforcing his forces in Montenegro. Similarly, U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley said last week the Yugoslav army continues to maintain a threatening environment against Montenegro with a very large presence of some 40,000 soldiers, which he says is four times their normal presence in the republic. In Foley's words, "the deployment ... can only mean that Milosevic hopes to intimidate and bring under his control the people and government in Montenegro". He warned that any move by Milosevic to undermine President Djukanovic or plans to destabilize Montenegro would be considered provocative and would be "dealt with appropriately".

Within hours of the warnings, Belgrade ended its military blockade of all land and sea routes into Montenegro. Yugoslav troops had set up the checkpoints in mid-May, in part to restrict the inflow of humanitarian aid, aid workers, journalists and others. But Belgrade yesterday denied visas for the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Norway's Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, preventing them from visiting Montenegro today and tomorrow for talks with Djukanovic, insisting they first visit Belgrade.