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Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Montenegro rift deepens

By South-east European specialist Gabriel Partos

Kosovo: Special Report
The dispute between Serbia and Montenegro, its much smaller partner in the Yugoslav federation, is worsening.

Montenegrin police have stepped up their protection for deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda after the Yugoslav army authorities issued a warrant for his arrest.

The order for Mr Kilibarda's apprehension follows accusations by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army that he has been undermining Yugoslavia's defence.

Distanced from Belgrade

Montenegro does not recognize either the Yugoslav federal authorities or their proclamation of a state of war in the wake of Nato's air strikes.

[ image: President Milo Djukanovic: Refused to recognise state of war with Nato]
President Milo Djukanovic: Refused to recognise state of war with Nato
Montenegro's pro-Western President, Milo Djukanovic, has repeatedly made the point that he will not allow his country to be dragged into a full-scale war over Kosovo.

He has denounced Nato's bombing campaign; but blamed it on what he called the irrational policies of the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic.

In the meantime, he has done his best to distance Montenegro from Belgrade.

But Montenegro cannot insulate itself from the fighting. The Yugoslav second army corps and its entire navy are based in Montenegro. As a result, Nato has been hitting many targets in Montenegro.

The Yugoslav Army's case

Besides, Montenegrin conscripts have no choice but to serve in the army wherever they are deployed - and that includes Kosovo. However, President Djukanovic has refused to recognize Yugoslavia's proclamation of a state of war - a decision taken by President Milosevic without consulting the Montenegrin authorities.

[ image: Demonstrators in the Montenegrin capital protest against Nato strikes]
Demonstrators in the Montenegrin capital protest against Nato strikes
Because of that, Montenegro has taken no moves to mobilize reservists.

The Yugoslav army's case against deputy Prime Minister Kilibarda in linked to an interview he gave in February, before the Nato air strikes started, when he said Montenegrins should refuse to mobilise and added that, in case there was a conflict with the Yugoslav army, Montengro might cut off water and power supplies to military barracks.

The Kilibarda case is only one of several contentious issues between Montenegro and the Serb-controlled federal armed forces.

The army has been trying to censor the Montenegrin media; and the navy has been involved in a dispute with the port authorities in Bar who have called for naval vessels to pulled out of their port after a patrol boat fired on Nato aircraft.

'A coup would be risky'

These incidents and disputes are widely seen as being part of a pattern in which the army is being used to put pressure on the Montenegrin leadership.

[ image: A Yugoslav army soldier at a Montenegrin anti-strikes protest: The army's second corps is based in the republic]
A Yugoslav army soldier at a Montenegrin anti-strikes protest: The army's second corps is based in the republic
Rumours are rife that President Milosevic may be considering using the army to stage a coup in a bid to get rid of Montenegro's pro-Western leadership.

However, a military putsch would be a risky undertaking.

For one thing, Montenegro has a well-armed police force which is around 7,000-strong. Besides, the army has split loyalties: it does include a substantial Montenegrin contingent.


In any case, many Serbs would not want to fight Montenegrins whom they regard as brothers who speak the same language, belong to the same Orthodox faith and with whom they've fought shoulder-to-shoulder.

This close relationship between Serbs and Montenegrins also accounts for the fact that a substantial minority of Montenegrins - perhaps 30 per cent - continue to give their support to President Djukanovic's Montenegrin adversary, Momir Bulatovic.

And Mr Bulatovic has remained a loyal follower of President Milosevic, serving as his Prime Minister in a federal government which Montenegro does not recognize.

The relationship between Serbia and Montenegro is more precarious than at any stage since Montenegro was brought under Serbian control after the end of the First World War, following some savage fighting.

One false move could spark a civil war; and that would have even more catastrophic consequences for Yugoslavia than the current Nato air strikes over Kosovo.

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