Montenegro urged to think again about independence

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia, Reuters

Montenegro’s ruling coalition narrowly won Sunday’s parliamentary election but its slender majority brought an immediate chorus of voices calling for it to rethink plans for independence.

Independent projections on Monday gave President Milo Djukanovic’s alliance, which aims to end Montenegro’s partnership with much larger Serbia in the Yugoslav federation, just two seats more than its main rivals and failing to get an overall majority.

“There is no clear mandate for or against anything, but a very clear split,” Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said.

“This should be a clear message both here for those in a hurry for a referendum on independence but also in Belgrade that there is a need for a serious discussion in good faith to resolve the outstanding issues between Montenegro and Serbia,” he told a news conference in Montenegro’s main city Podgorica.

“I think it (the election outcome) is good, that this is a kind of sobering up,” Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic, a key figure in Serbia’s ruling DOS coalition, told independent radio B92 in Belgrade.

“I think now there are more chances to preserve the federal state,” added Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, attending the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London.

And in Brussels, the European Commission urged Montenegro to begin talks swiftly with Belgrade aimed at preserving the federation.

“The European Union’s message has been very clear and consistent — refrain from any unilateral action. That remains our message,” said spokesman Gunnar Wiegand.

“The commission hopes the new government will start talks with Belgrade as quickly as possible so they can redefine their relations,” he said.

But the commission, the EU’s executive arm, added that the 15-nation bloc would respect any democratic decisions agreed by Montenegro and Serbia, the only republics left in Yugoslavia.

Montenegro, with only 650,000 people by far the junior partner, distanced itself from Serbia during the autocratic rule of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and threats from Belgrade only increased support for Djukanovic’s separatist ambitions.

But last October’s fall of Milosevic appears to have reduced support for independence, and the opposition pro Yugoslav bloc said its strong showing, not predicted publicly by opinion pollsters or the Djukanovic camp — showed the president did not have the mandate to press ahead with the final breakup of Yugoslavia.