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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK

World: Europe

Journalists freed after stand-off

Montenegro refuses to accept Serbia's declaration of a state of war

Two European camera crews have been freed by the Yugoslav Army after a stand-off with the government of Montenegro.

Kosovo: Special Report
The crews, including one from the BBC, were accused of trespassing in military zones.

Their release represents a victory for Montenegro's government against a Serb-dominated army which has been accused of trying to destabilise the republic.

The detentions were the latest focal point of a power struggle between Slobodan Milosevic's federal government in Belgrade and the reforming leadership in Montenegro, which together with Serbia forms Yugoslavia.

Jeremy Bowen: "It seemed like a good time to go to Niksic in Montenegro"
Montenegro's president met the general in charge of Yugoslav troops based in the republic to demand an end to the intimidation of local people and foreign journalists.

He also threatened to try to confine the mainly Serb troops of the Yugoslav army to their barracks if the intimidation continues.

Campaign of intimidation

A four-member crew from Germany's ZDF television, in Germany, was detained on Tuesday. The following day a five-person BBC crew was also held by the military.

Paul Welch in Montenegro: "These may well be defining moments"
After the political confrontation both were released unharmed on Thursday.

Reporters from British, American French, Swedish, Czech and Spanish news organisations have also been stopped by army patrols over the past 10 days.

Montenegro Justice Minister Dragan Soc said the army was harassing the foreign media as part of an orchestrated campaign against the republic's government.

He said: "The army is targeting foreign journalists to discourage them from staying in Montenegro. They want to create the impression that they are not safe here and that the civilian authorities cannot protect them.

"The army's goal is to destabilise Montenegro politically and create an environment which will enable the government to be toppled."

Policy differences

Serbia and Montenegro are the only two republics left within federal Yugoslavia but they have fundamental policy disagreements.

Montenegro refuses to acknowledge Belgrade's declaration of a state of war and its president is in favour of developing relations with the West.

Montenegro is also home to the Second Yugoslav Army, which takes its orders from the federal administration.

Its new commander, General Milorad Obradovic, a Slobodan Milosevic supporter, was only appointed last week, increasing fears that a coup may be being planned.

Our correspondent says that although Montenegro avoided a military clash over the detained journalists, it is unlikely that the political fight with Belgrade is over.

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