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Tuesday, February 23, 1999 Published at 01:29 GMT

World: Europe

Montenegro clashes with Belgrade over Kosovo

Nato war planes would have to fly over Montenegro

By Jacky Rowland in Belgrade

There are signs of a growing rift between Belgrade and the small Yugoslav republic of Montenegro over the military stand-off with the West on the Kosovo crisis.

Kosovo Section
Montenegro has said it will not let the Yugoslav army use its territory in an eventual conflict with Nato forces. The army has accused Montenegro of violating the Yugoslav constitution.

Now senior members of the Montenegran parliament are due to meet to discuss the crisis on Tuesday.

Crucial territory

The territory of Montenegro will be crucial if Nato decides to launch air strikes against Yugoslavia in the event that it fails to sign a peace agreement on Kosovo.

Montenegro lies between Serbia and the Adriatic sea, so Nato war planes would have to pass over its territory to reach targets further inland.

Now, the Montegran Government has indicated it wishes to remain neutral if the stand-off between Belgrade and the West erupts into open conflict.

The government said it would use all legal measures to prevent the use of its territory by the Yugoslav army.

Army's anger

This position has provoked an angry response from the army. The military command said the Montenegran Government was going against the constitution, which states that defence is the responsibility of federal Yugoslavia and not of individual republics.

Now the opposition in Montenegro, which is loyal to the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, is demanding an emergency meeting of parliament.

Later on Tuesday, leaders of the parliamentary parties will meet in the capital, Podgorica, to discuss the crisis with the West.

Against Nato intervention

The ruling party in Montenegro, which is led by a bitter rival of President Milosevic, has already stated its position. The party opposes military intervention by Nato because it fears this would strengthen Mr Milosevic's position.

But if air strikes become unavoidable, the ruling party said it was determined to spare Montenegro's territory from possible military activities.

Montenegro has become increasingly mutinous over the past year in its attitude to Belgrade. But its current defiance is perhaps the most serious threat yet to the continued existence of a federal Yugoslavia.

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