As politicians in Belgrade continue to wrangle over the formation of a federal government, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and army chief of staff Nebojsa Pavkovic flew to Podgorica today for talks with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports Montenegro's future status within the Yugoslav federation was expected to be a major subject of the discussion.
Prague, 1 Nov 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Today's meeting in Podgorica was the first session of Yugoslavia's Supreme Defense Council since Vojislav Kostunica succeeded Slobodan Milosevic as Yugoslav president three-and-a-half weeks ago.
The Supreme Defense Council consists of the federal president, the Serb and Montenegrin presidents, and the federal defense minister and the army chief of staff. But only Kostunica, Djukanovic, and Pavkovic attended the Podgorica meeting, which began late this afternoon.
With the federal government still being formed -- Prime Minister-designate Zoran Zizic says he expects a cabinet to be confirmed by Saturday -- Yugoslavia has no defense minister yet. The Serbian government was formed last week, but it is in deadlock after two pro-Djukanovic deputy prime ministers -- Nebojsa Covic and Spasoje Krunic -- stormed out of a cabinet session last night. They said they left because pro-Milosevic Socialist Party members had refused to dismiss the country's state security chief Rade Markovic.
It is not clear why Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, who is vice president of Milosevic's Socialist Party, did not attend today's meeting. But Milutinovic faces a war crimes charge by the UN's Hague tribunal and he may not have wanted to risk arrest.
The main Montenegrin daily, "Vijesti," reported earlier that at today's meeting Djukanovic would insist on the dismissal of the Yugoslav army command, including general Pavkovic and the commander of Yugoslav troops in Montenegro, general Milorad Obradovic. Djukanovic was also said to be demanding the dissolution of the Yugoslav Seventh Battalion, a paramilitary unit that he says was preparing to seize power in Montenegro in the final months of Milosevic's rule.
Although the supreme council normally meets in Belgrade, it met in Podgorica today because Djukanovic is recovering from an injury suffered in a car accident three weeks ago.
On Monday, Djukanovic met with Kostunica's campaign manager, Zoran Djindjic. In today's edition of the Belgrade daily "Blic," Djindjic is quoted as saying the two agreed that the issue of Serb-Montenegrin relations will not be dealt with until further democratization has been achieved in Serbia.
Djindjic said: "no definite solution can be made as long as we have the remainders of Milosevic's regime in our institutions." Early legislative elections in Serbia are scheduled for late next month, and Djindjic says he agreed with Djukanovic that the discussions on the Serb-Montenegrin relationship should begin early next year and be conducted through institutions.
Djindjic offered further details in an interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic Service today.
"I'm very satisfied that Serbia and Montenegro finally agreed on certain reasonable fundamentals without [the need for] heightened emotions and without being mesmerized by the moment. We agreed on two things: present priorities and the priorities for the future organization of our common state."
Djindjic: "a concept has to be established for a common association of Serbia and Montenegro that would have a maximum of practicality and serve citizens as one government quickly responding to their needs." Djindjic dismisses suggestions that personal rivalries will play a role in any such association.
"Certainly, this is not an issue of our interpersonal relations but rather of the general level of democracy and the resolution of certain key issues. This is true above all in Serbia, where there are far more people and where the situation is more difficult due to shortages of supplies of power, heat, food, and medicine and in establishing democratic institutions."
In an interview with Montenegrin state television last night, Djukanovic reiterated his belief that "the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is a fiction." In his words: "I don't see that it is in the interest of Serbia and Montenegro to shroud their statehood in some sort of Yugoslav construction." He called for a looser association of the two republics to be named the "Alliance of the States of Serbia and Montenegro."
Djukanovic also expressed disappointment that Yugoslav authorities had proceeded to reapply for membership in the United Nations without consulting the Montenegrin leadership. He suggests Montenegro and Serbia should have separate seats in the world body, and that each should have what he calls its "own international legitimacy." Both republics, he says, have a "historical right" to independence and, according to Djukanovic, " have been functioning as independent states for several years."
The UN Security Council yesterday recommended the General Assembly readmit Yugoslavia. The UN has barred Yugoslavia from occupying its seat at the UN since 1992 as a result of the violent break-up of the country -- although the red-star flag of Titoist Yugoslavia has continued to fly at UN headquarters in New York.