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Yugoslavia: Montenegro To Wait Before Calling Referendum

The Yugoslav republic of Montenegro faced another blow with the recent constitutional changes that will allow Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to seek another term. NCA's Alexandra Poolos interviews Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic about how the republic's pro-Western leadership plans to respond.

Prague, 19 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Montenegro said today that its pro-Western president will not run against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic if an election is called later this year.

In a telephone interview with RFE/RL, Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said that President Milo Djukanovic intends to keep his office.

"No, absolutely not. He is the president of Montenegro, entrusted by the citizens and he is fulfilling his public mandate, which he has said many times."

The denial comes in the wake of Yugoslav constitutional changes that will allow Milosevic to seek another presidential term. It is a rebuke to recent statements by Serbian opposition leaders that Djukanovic is the best candidate to run against Milosevic. Serbian opposition leaders have been scrambling since the amendments, as they confront the fact that with no viable candidate to run against Milosevic, he could easily win another term.

Djukanovic and his lawmakers denounced the constitutional changes, which diminish Montenegro's role in the Yugoslav parliament. They say the moves are destroying the Yugoslav federation and pushing Montenegro to independence. But although Montenegrin lawmakers voted not to take part in the changes, including the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, they have balked at taking decisive action -- namely calling for a referendum on independence.

Some of Djukanovic's political advisers argue that it is vital to prepare the ground for a referendum before federal elections are officially announced. But support for such a poll is far from universal in Montenegro. Even Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists is split on whether to call a referendum, largely because Western governments are opposed to it and because it could provide a pretext for Yugoslav military intervention.

Serbian opposition leaders met with Montenegrin officials in the Montenegrin coastal resort of Sveti Stefan last week. Both sides agreed that stability in Montenegro depends on a democratic Serbia and the removal of Milosevic from power. But they have yet to come up with a common strategy. Instead, they seem paralyzed with patience.

Vujanovic told RFE/RL that the tiny republic must wait to see what happens in Serbia.

"We have no idea when we will call a referendum. We are expecting the situation in Serbia to develop democratically, and then we'll see what Montenegro's position looks like, whether we will make an agreement with Serbian opposition to save the federal state on the principles of state, national and civic equality with the others. And if not, then we will call a referendum."

But as Montenegro continues to wait, Milosevic is moving steadily forward with plans for elections. Belgrade has already set in motion logistical preparations for elections at Yugoslav Army bases in districts controlled by the pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party of Montenegro.

As the federal crisis continuing to percolate in Yugoslavia, Montenegro may have to act soon or risk being acted upon.

(Amir Zukic of the South Slavic Service contributed to this report.)