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Yugoslavia: Montenegro Prepares For Referendum On Independence

The leaders of the three parties in Montenegro's ruling coalition have agreed to call a referendum on the republic's status by next June, whatever the result of coming talks with Serbian leaders on the future of the Yugoslav federation. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele notes the Montenegrin decision comes just before the appointment of a new federal government.

Prague, 3 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic agreed late yesterday with his two coalition partners on the need to prepare for a referendum in Montenegro on the republic's relationship with Serbia.

But Djukanovic told Serbian television he is convinced Montenegro and Serbia will succeed in reaching agreement on their future relations within the Yugoslav federation.

"We should start the process of negotiations with Serbia about redefining our relations. One of the possible models would be that Serbia and Montenegro would each be members of the United Nations. We should proceed in these talks with the greatest possible degree of mutual trust."

In talks last night, Djukanovic -- leader of the Democratic Party of Socialists -- also agreed with his coalition partners, Social Democrat Zarko Rakcevic and People's Party chief Dragan Soc, to draft a bill on referenda, campaigning, and media behavior by the end of next month.

Rakcevic says a legal basis for a referendum on Montenegro's status in Yugoslavia must be in place by the end of December. If it is, he says, the referendum should be held no later than June.

"We agreed that from today we'll move to create the conditions for a referendum for the citizens of Montenegro, that is to create the legal infrastructure for a referendum."

Rakcevic says the decision effectively eliminates any other path to independence for the small republic. He also says last night's accord ensures that the Montenegrin government will be united when it opens formal talks with Serbia early next year on the future of the common state.

The third partner in yesterday's coalition talks, Soc of the People's Party, says the three leaders quickly agreed that -- regardless of what the eventual settlement of relations between Montenegro and Serbia may be -- it will have to be verified in a referendum. But he notes that their accord was a compromise made acceptable to all three coalition parties.

"We saw that it is possible to agree in inter-party talks at the level of the three [coalition parties] without the participation of state organs. We're trying to bring together what we can, see what can and can't be harmonized."

Soc says Montenegro will not open talks with Belgrade until a new leadership is installed in Serbia after legislative elections are held in seven weeks (Dec 23).

In Belgrade, meanwhile, the caretaker Serbian government appointed one week ago remains deadlocked after two pro-democracy deputy prime ministers, Spasoje Krunic and Nebojsa Covic, walked out Tuesday in protest at the refusal of secret police chief and deputy interior minister Rade Markovic to step down.

Markovic faces accusations of being behind a string of political murders and disappearances during the years of Slobodan Milosevic's rule. Critics say he is stalling for time so his staff can cart off or destroy possibly incriminating secret police files.

In an effort to overcome the deadlock, new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica met yesterday with Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, his co-guarantor in the last week's (Oct 26) agreement on forming the caretaker Serbian government. Milutinovic -- a Milosevic ally whom the UN tribunal at The Hague has indicted for war crimes -- had apparently recovered from a sudden illness the day before that was said to have prevented him from attending a rare session of the Yugoslav Defense Council, outside the relative security of Serbia, in Podgorica.

Federal Prime Minister-designate Zoran Zizic has announced the names of the members of his coalition government to be made up of Kostunica's Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or DOS, and the formerly pro-Milosevic Montenegrin Socialists. The independent Belgrade news agency Beta quotes sources in Zizic's Montenegrin Socialist People's Party, or SNP, as confirming that former opposition economist Miroljub Labus -- who heads the non-governmental group G17 -- will be deputy prime minister in charge of foreign economic relations.

Zizic said the SNP will get six of the 16 seats in the cabinet, including the premiership. A seventh Montenegrin seat -- dealing with religious affairs -- will go to the Serbian People's Party, another formerly pro-Milosevic party based in Montenegro.

The Montenegrin socialists are to get the ministries of defense, health, trade and finance, as well as a ministry without portfolio.

Kostunica's DOS will get nine seats in the cabinet, including the post of foreign minister (Goran Svilanovic), interior (Nis mayor Zoran Zivkovic), justice, information, the central bank, telecommunications, agriculture, transportation, and sports. Opposition Muslim activist Rasim Ljajic of the Sandzak Coalition will be minister for national minorities and ethnic groups.

Kostunica's presidential campaign manager, Democratic Party (DS) leader Zoran Djindjic, says the new Yugoslav federal government will be a caretaker government similar to the Serbian government. In an interview published in the independent Belgrade weekly "Vreme," Djindjic says: "Once we agree with Montenegro on the redefinition of relations within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, I presume that a new form of parliament and new elections will be necessary. In the middle of next year, in autumn by the latest, we expect elections will be called."

Until then, Djindjic says, "we must be cautious, wise, but under no circumstances hasty."