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Montenegro: Independence Sought With Breakthrough Coalition Deal

Montenegro's newly elected parliament is due to meet for the first time on 24 May for sessions that will ultimately determine whether a referendum on independence is conducted this year. RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz examines how pro-independence parties have promised to join together to call for the referendum.

Prague, 22 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Over the weekend, an apparent breakdown in coalition talks between Montenegro's pro-independence parties raised doubts about whether a government could be formed that would call for a referendum on independence from Yugoslavia.

But President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, or DPS, today announced a power-sharing agreement with the Liberal Alliance that appears likely to allow the referendum to go through.

The accord comes only two days ahead of the first session of the parliament that was elected last month. Both parties were aware that without some kind of breakthrough by the end of this month that would allow a government to be constituted, fresh elections would have to be called.

Yesterday, Liberal Alliance leader Slavko Perovic offered an olive branch in the dispute. He said that his party would support Djukanovic's bloc in order to allow an independence referendum to move forward.

The question of a future government for Montenegro was thrown open on 20 May when Djukanovic's party, the DPS, announced it had turned down a coalition proposal by the Liberal Alliance.

Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic, who is a senior DPS official, said on 20 May that the Liberal Alliance had gone too far in coalition talks by demanding five additional seats in parliament. Vujanovic said that demand could not be honored without violating Montenegro's Constitution.

Vujanovic said the DPS does not object to any of the other demands from the Liberal Alliance. Their demands include control of Montenegro's Justice and Interior ministries as well as other top administrative positions.

But Dejan Vucinic, a parliamentary deputy from the Liberal Alliance, said differences in the coalition talks had gone deeper than the issue of more parliamentary seats for the Liberals.

Vucinic yesterday told RFE/RL that President Djukanovic had refused to meet a demand for the payment of 120 million German marks to the Liberal Alliance.

"We asked for 120 million Deutsche marks. Djukanovic offered 20 million D-marks. But that's too low a price and it's not adequate, considering our value on the market and our political value. We asked for the 120 million D-marks in order to assure the existence of the party within the Montenegrin political environment."

Vucinic yesterday also accused the DPS leadership of trying to divide the Liberal Alliance into two camps during the coalition talks. "The leadership of the Liberals has been united. But there were some maneuvers from the DPS leadership to break our unity. That was not correct behavior."

During the contentious spring election campaign, the Liberal Alliance criticized Djukanovic and his party for not doing enough on the issue of independence. It also has accused the president of holding secret talks with officials in Belgrade aimed at declaring a three-year moratorium on independence.

Djukanovic refused to discuss the allegations during the election campaign. Instead, he promised to push strongly for the independence referendum.

"I won't debate with the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro on this [allegation] because I'm very aware that we will need every vote [in parliament] after the elections to call a referendum on independence -- to unite our strength so that we can make Montenegro independent and bring it international recognition."

But Djukanovic has come under increased international pressure in recent weeks to keep Montenegro within the Yugoslav federation -- at least for the next few years -- in order to maintain regional stability in the Balkans. A declaration of independence from Montenegro would render a federal Yugoslavia obsolete because only Serbia would remain.

Ljiljana Bacevic, director of the Belgrade-based Center for Political Studies and Public Opinion Research, says Montenegro's departure would create a fresh political crisis in Belgrade, and lead to early elections in Serbia. The separatist aspirations of ethnic Albanians in the UN-administered province of Kosovo would also be boosted.

NATO's June 1999 cease-fire with Belgrade, as well as the UN Security Council resolution that set up the UN administration in Kosovo, both state that Kosovo is an integral part of Yugoslavia. The dissolution of the Yugoslav federation would force the United Nations and NATO to re-examine those provisions on Kosovo's legal status.

Djukanovic's postelection rhetoric has differed markedly from his campaign speeches. Last week, the president said that independence from Belgrade is not a goal in itself. He said his main strategic aim now is to integrate a democratic and prosperous Montenegro into the European community.

But if the Liberal Alliance and the DPS carry through with today's agreement to support a new government, they can easily call an independence referendum as soon as this summer. Such a move requires support from more than half of the 77 deputies in parliament.

The DPS won 36 parliamentary seats in the balloting -- three seats short of the simple majority needed to form a government or to call the referendum. The Liberal Alliance won six seats.