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Montenegro: Pro-Independence Bloc Still Too Small To Achieve Goal

Pro-independence parties in Podgorica have signed a pact that will allow a minority government to take power in Montenegro. A key provision in yesterday's deal calls for a public referendum within six months on whether Montenegro should declare independence from Yugoslavia. But as RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz notes, the pro-independence movement does not control the two-thirds parliamentary majority required by the constitution to confirm the referendum results.

Prague, 29 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- An agreement signed yesterday by Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's pro-independence coalition and the Liberal Alliance has ended weeks of uncertainty about who will govern the tiny Yugoslav republic.

The deal will allow Djukanovic's coalition to rule Montenegro through a minority government that is expected to be headed by the current prime minister, Filip Vujanovic.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Podgorica, Srdjan Jankovic, obtained a copy of yesterday's accord. He reports that the six parliamentary deputies in the Liberal Alliance have agreed to support the minority government without receiving any cabinet posts of their own.

In exchange, the Liberal Alliance wants a public referendum to be conducted within six months on whether Montenegro should declare independence from the Yugoslav federation. As Jankovic explains:

"The agreement says that the reason for cooperation between these parties is to provide the circumstances for a free and fair referendum on the renewal of Montenegrin statehood and the full sovereignty of Montenegro."

But even if the referendum results show that a majority of Montenegrin voters supports a declaration of independence, there are not enough pro-independence deputies in parliament to confirm such a change.

Under Montenegro's Constitution, calling a referendum on independence requires support from a simple majority, or 39 votes, in the 77-seat parliament. By working together, Djukanovic's coalition and the Liberal Alliance can muster 42 votes and schedule the referendum.

But confirmation of the referendum results -- the final step necessary before Montenegro can actually declare independence -- requires support from a two-thirds majority in parliament. And the pro-independence movement needs another 10 parliamentary seats in order to have the 52 votes needed to break away from Yugoslavia.

Elections a month ago brought two ethnic Albanian candidates to the legislature who might be convinced to support the independence movement. But the remaining 33 seats are controlled by the Together For Yugoslavia bloc -- a group whose top priority is to keep Montenegro within the Yugoslav federation.

The only way around the constitutional requirements for the pro-independence movement would be for parliament to change the constitution so that confirmation of an independence referendum requires only a simple majority in parliament. But that is also an unlikely development, because amending Montenegro's Constitution also requires backing from two-thirds of the parliament.

The Liberal Alliance has called for a new law on an independence referendum to be approved within three months of the inauguration of the next government. But pro-Yugoslav forces say they will ask the Constitutional Court to overrule any attempt to circumvent the two-thirds confirmation rule.

Speaking on Montenegrin television during the weekend, President Djukanovic said that the referendum should not be looked upon as a kind of "judgment day." He said the referendum would be a democratic way to resolve a dilemma in Montenegro -- to decide if becoming a sovereign state is in Montenegro's real interest or if Yugoslavia can provide enough guarantees to Podgorica for its state and national interests.

Djukanovic wants Montenegro to become a sovereign state and then forge a new alliance with Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation. But officials in Belgrade say they want either a reformed federation or an outright separation of the two republics.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has said he is ready to talk with Djukanovic on the future of the federation. But Djukanovic says a visit to Podgorica by Kostunica was announced twice last week and never occurred.

Under yesterday's agreement, the Liberal Alliance has pledged to support a minority government for one year. By that time, it should be clear whether the independence movement is being blocked by the Together For Yugoslavia group in parliament. The Liberal Alliance could try to force early elections without violating yesterday's pact by withdrawing its support for the government a year from now.

Western leaders have urged Djukanovic to abandon his independence drive and try instead to improve relations with Serbia. There are fears in the international community that independence for Montenegro would fuel the aspirations of separatists in other parts of the Balkans.

The UN-administered province of Kosovo is one example. The June 1999 cease-fire deal between NATO and Belgrade, as well as United Nations resolution 1244 on Kosovo, both recognize the province as an integral part of Yugoslavia.

The use of the word "Yugoslavia" in those documents is crucial. If Montenegro does declare independence, then Yugoslavia would cease to exist because Serbia would be the only remaining republic in the federation. That would force the international community to re-examine calls from Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders for independence.