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Yugoslavia: Talks On Federation's Future Open In Belgrade

Leaders from Yugoslavia and its republics of Serbia and Montenegro opened a new round of talks today on the future of the Yugoslav Federal Republic. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is attending the talks as an observer and has already met with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. But there are indications the first round is unlikely to produce a breakthrough in a running dispute between some leaders in Serbia and Montenegro.

Prague, 17 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- It is doubtful whether talks today on Yugoslavia's future will see much progress, despite the presence of EU envoy Javier Solana.

Solana pressured Belgrade and Podgorica to open the new round of talks. But each side continues to insist on its own version of the future status of the Yugoslav federation. Montenegrin officials back a loose federation of two independent states, while Serbian authorities want Serbia and Montenegro to share common sovereignty and defense, foreign, and monetary policies, as well as their markets.

In a discussion on Montenegrin television 14 December, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said the talks would be an opportunity to develop the "alliance platform." "A platform about the relations between Serbia and Montenegro, which would rest on mutual independence and on a federation which we would work out through a bilateral arrangement," Djukanovic said. "Our impression is that this platform so far has not received adequate attention and we believe that with a triple dialogue there will be a chance of proceeding to a constructive, democratic, mutually acceptable solution."

While former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was still in power, Djukanovic's independence aspirations held sway with both the West and his own constituents.

But since Milosevic's ouster in 2000, Djukanovic has found significantly less support from the international community for his independence bid.

The West is concerned that the ultimate collapse of rump Yugoslavia -- once a federation comprising six republics -- could further encourage secessionists elsewhere in the Balkans, particularly independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia.

During a visit to Podgorica in November, Solana made it clear that Montenegro should remain under common sovereignty with Serbia in a reformed federation. He warned Montenegrin authorities that "it is a mistake to think that separation would be a faster way to become a part of the EU."

French President Jacques Chirac added to the pressure on Montenegro when he visited Belgrade in early November, warning Podgorica that, in his personal opinion, the EU was not ready "at this moment" to recognize a new Balkan state.

The pressure from the West is in line with Yugoslav President Kostunica's proposal for a looser federation. Kostunica said earlier recently that Yugoslavia cannot afford any further fragmentation.

"We have once again been encouraged by the support of Europeans and the European Union for the integrity of Yugoslavia and -- how to say? -- the opposition to any further disintegration of the Balkans and southeast region, that means fragmentation into new small states."

Yugoslav Federal Prime Minister Slobodan Samardzic told RFE/RL's South Slavic service on 16 December 2000 that Serbian officials would continue to advocate what he called "a common state solution."

"Tomorrow, we'll see whether Montenegro's leaders are prepared to take a step toward a common state solution, on which the federal state and Serbia share a common platform and which is also favored by the European Union," Samardzic said.

Djukanovic believes that Montenegrins themselves should voice their opinions on the issue and has tentatively scheduled a referendum in the spring.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic says the EU is pushing the talks now because it does not like the idea of a referendum: "In light of the fact that Montenegro cannot move from its position on two [separate] independent states, it must resolve this on its own through a referendum. So the referendum is an issue. The talks are happening now because the European Union is not satisfied with the referendum as a solution to the problem."

Zoran Lutovac of the Center for Political Research in Belgrade says he doubts that a referendum would succeed in bringing out a majority of Montenegrins in favor of independence: "[A referendum] won't succeed, in light of the outcome of previous elections as well as because research shows it cannot win a convincing majority for an independent Montenegro. The problem is that the Montenegrin authorities somehow have to tell the public why they are negotiating now under pressure and why they didn't before."

Lutovac says Djukanovic and his backers must now negotiate to save face in Montenegro. Lutovac offers two possibilities: One, issue a declaration that says it will be easier for Montenegro to integrate into the EU together with Serbia rather than as an independent state; or two, hold a referendum that would show that a clear majority does not favor an independent Montenegro.