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Yugoslavia: Montenegro Reacts Angrily To Appointment Of Serb Defense Minister

Yugoslavia's estranged junior republic, Montenegro, reacted angrily to the appointment Tuesday of a Serb to the post of federal defense minister. The post had been held by a Montenegrin who was murdered in Belgrade last week. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele takes a look at what Montenegro has against Yugoslavia's new defense minister, Dragoljub Ojdanic.

Prague, 17 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's appointment last night of a Serb to the post of defense minister provoked anger in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica today.

Dragoljub Ojdanic replaces a pro-Milosevic Montenegrin, Pavle Bulatovic, who was machine-gunned to death by unknown assailants while dining at a Belgrade football club restaurant last week (Feb. 7).

Ojdanic, until now army chief of staff, was one of four senior officials indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal last May along with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Yet the criticism from Podgorica was not based on that fact.

Rather, Montenegrin officials complain that they were not consulted, as required by law, prior to the appointment. The move seems to harden the resolve of Montenegrins opposed to the Milosevic regime.

The appointment also raises concerns that having a Serb rather than a Montenegrin at the head of the Defense Ministry and the army may increase the likelihood of a crackdown by Belgrade against Montenegro's ruling pro-West faction.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's closest adviser, Miodrag Vukovic, was particularly incensed. He told RFE/RL:

"It proves to Montenegro that, once again, the constitution is being totally trampled upon and that not a single federal institution is functioning even formally."

Vukovic says the appointment confirms that the Milosevic regime is ignoring Montenegro's will and its constitutional role in the federal system. Vukovic says this requires a suitable response, which he declines to specify.

Vukovic says Ojdanic should have been appointed through standard constitutional procedures. Under that procedure, the federal prime minister appoints the ministers, who are then confirmed by the federal parliament.

Montenegro is engaged in a long-term boycott of the federal parliament. The federal prime minister, Momir Bulatovic, is a Montenegrin, but is allied with Milosevic.

Vukovic says the Supreme Defense Council, which has also not met for a long time due to a Montenegrin boycott, is the proper body to appoint the army chief of staff.

Other Montenegrin officials expressed alarm. The parliamentary faction leader of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, Dragan Djurovic, says Ojdanic's appointment means Montenegro no longer has any of its representatives in commanding positions in the Defense Ministry, the Yugoslav Army, the federal court or the central bank.

"Mr. Momir Bulatovic once again has given a ministerial position away, this time a very important one, defense. This after he let Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party and [Milosevic's wife] Mila Markovic's Party of the Yugoslav Left reconstruct the cabinet with their own people."

A Montenegrin Social Democratic Party official (Ranko Krivokapic) says it is the first time in years that the defense minister is a soldier rather than a civilian.

And the head of the Montenegrin Helsinki committee for human rights, Slobodan Franovic, says the appointments are unconstitutional. Franovic says Montenegro should be very concerned, as the move threatens its security.

The lack of any reference in the Montenegrin criticism to the appointment of an indicted war criminal as defense minister suggests the politicians are trying to win votes at home by playing the Montenegrin card, while ignoring war-related liability shared to varying extents by Serbs and Montenegrins who served in the Yugoslav armed forces during the 1990s in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Notably, Montenegrin criticism of Ojdanic's successor as army chief of staff, Nebojsa Pavkovic, has been negligible. Pavkovic was the commander of the Yugoslav Third Army in Kosovo, and is widely viewed as a hero for minimizing losses to the army during last year's NATO airstrikes. Pavkovic has been campaigning vigorously for Serbian forces to be allowed to return to Kosovo, saying NATO has failed to restore law and order in the province.