U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright met in Rome yesterday with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic to convince him to reverse his threat to boycott next month's Yugoslav federal elections. Any boycott is certain to hand the vote to President Slobodan Milosevic. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports.
Prague. 2 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Albright met in a Rome hotel for 90 minutes with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic to discuss presidential, parliamentary and local elections slated for September 24.
Albright said it is important for the democratic opposition in Serbia to unite and participate in the elections. She said the elections are "clearly important and will provide ... a meaningful test."
The Serbian opposition, minus the largest opposition party -- Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) -- agreed on 29 July to back joint slates in vote, although it's clear they have little chance of success without the SPO and Montenegro.
Albright said she and Djukanovic also discussed ways to increase economic assistance to Montenegro.
Djukanovic, speaking to reporters after the talks, said he was concerned by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's potential to destabilize Montenegro. But he said any final decision to participate in the election rests with the ruling coalition parties in Podgorica. Montenegrin officials are planning to meet with most of the leading Serbian opposition figures, minus Draskovic, today.
He says whatever decision the parties reach, his government will not damage what he called Serbia's "fragile" opposition:
"We will not make a single move that will undermine the already fragile democratic front in Serbia -- which should take every opportunity to delegitimize Milosevic."
Montenegro's ruling parties are divided over whether the Serb opposition should participate in the elections or not.
Djukanovic's top adviser, Miodrag Vukovic, says Montenegro has "more to lose" than do the Serbian opposition parties. He tells our correspondent the government would risk the very existence of the Montenegrin state and all the democratic reforms it has carried out if it should take part in the vote and Milosevic win.
Vukovic is referring to what he calls Belgrade's "electoral and constitutional coup" last week, when the Milosevic government passed a series of constitutional changes that reduce Montenegro's role within federal Yugoslavia.
Draskovic meanwhile has renewed his call for the Serbian Renewal Movement to boycott the elections if Montenegro does not participate.
He told Montenegrin television last night the Serbian opposition parties are wrong to take part in the elections because of the constitutional changes. He says participation would lead to what he calls "constitutional violence over Montenegro" and the continuation of Milosevic's "dictatorship in Serbia."
Draskovic acknowledges concerns among the opposition parties that any boycott would surely hand the election to Milosevic, but he says any such victory would represent a "serious threat to the maintenance of a unified state of Serbia and Montenegro." He didn't elaborate on what his party would do in the event of a Milosevic victory. Political analysts say even if Albright convinces the Montenegrin leadership to participate in the vote, it's not clear whether Draskovic and his movement would take part. One analyst told RFE/RL that Draskovic's comments have lost any thread of logic.