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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
West fears Montenegro independence
Pro-independence supporters
The issue of independence has split Montenegrins
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

If there had been a landslide in favour of independence, then fine - one British official said - we would have respected the will of the Montenegrin people.

But now the country is divided down the middle.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic addresses a campaign rally
Djukanovic has already distanced Montenegro from Serbia
The official believed - or hoped - that President Milo Djukanovic would not go full-steam ahead for independence.

The election result would instead be taken as the opening gambit in negotiations with Belgrade on changing the federation linking Montenegro and Serbia.

Western governments are watching anxiously to see what course Mr Djukanovic adopts.

Their fears were spelt out as the voting took place by Anna Lindh, the Foreign Minister of Sweden which holds the presidency of the European Union.

Chain reaction

The western Balkans risked another crisis, she said; the break-up of the Yugoslav Federation might have severe consequences.

What signal would it send to Kosovo? What would happen in Macedonia and Bosnia?

The big powers are worried that independence for Montenegro would stoke up Albanian separatist movements in Kosovo, southern Serbia and Macedonia - the scene of recent fighting.

Earlier this month the Contact Group of major western governments and Russia said they supported Montenegro staying within Yugoslavia.

They hinted that unilateral action to break away would threaten international aid.

The West in effect encouraged Mr Djukanovic's dreams of independence when he stood out against Slobodan Milosevic.

Now that he is gone, it would like to see an end to them.

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23 Apr 01 | Europe
Montenegro breakaway in doubt
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