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Saturday, 8 July, 2000, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Montenegro looks to the future
Montenegrin parliament
The rejection of closer ties came after a lengthy debate
By Central Europe reporter Nick Thorpe

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the Montenegrin Parliament voted to reject the latest moves to create a presidential system in Yugoslavia.

A five point government resolution, formalising a two year old boycott of Yugoslav institutions, was passed by 36 votes to 18.

It rejected as illegal the changes to the constitution approved by the Yugoslav Parliament in Belgrade on Thursday.

Filip Vujanovic
Filip Vujanovic is adopting a tough stance

Many in Montenegro fear that the changes, masterminded by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, will leave their country with an inferior status to Serbia.

In a tough speech at the start of the session, Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic told deputies that the moves in Belgrade were "a brutal attempt to annul Montenegro's statehood."

The resolution of the Montenegrin Government, approved by Parliament, stops short of setting forth what the government will do now, other than simply to ignore the new federal legislation.

But it does appeal to the Yugoslav army not to be 'abused' for political ends.

President Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists, which lead a three-party coalition, are still wary of giving in to the demands of the Social Democrats within the government, and the Liberals outside, who want an immediate referendum on full independence for Montenegro.

Protection

The president's senior adviser, Miodrag Vukovic, said the moves by Belgrade amounted to a 'trap' into which Montenegro did not intend to fall, by responding with radical moves of her own.

President Milo Djukanovic
Milo Djukanovic: Wary of referendum demands

But he also said that the chances of the survival of Yugoslavia were now slimmer, and that the Montenegrin government would in the coming days draw up new laws to protect the independence it already enjoys.

This includes the use of the German mark - introduced last November as a parallel currency to the dinar - and good relations with the West, while Serbia languishes in international isolation.

Tensions between Belgrade and Podgorica have increased in recent weeks.

The Serbian government was infuriated by the participation of Montenegrin officials at a session of the UN security council, as part of the Slovenian delegation.

Jacques Chirac and Milo Djukanovic
Montenegro has a good relations with the West

Yugoslavia was excluded from the same session.

Those tensions culminated this week, in a war of words between the Montenegrin authorities and the Yugoslav army high command, which accused President Djukanovic of insulting behaviour.

The President replied that it should not become the private army of Slobodan Milosevic.

Tensions

Ever since Milo Djukanovic was elected president of Montenegro by a slender margin in October 1997, there have been fears that President Milosevic might try to regain control of Montenegro by force.

Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic is unlikely to make further concessions

This twice appeared to be close - during Mr Djukanovic's inauguration in January 1998, and during the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia last year - when the Montenegrin leader remained loyal to the West, even as its bombs fell on military targets in his republic.

In Montenegro itself, there is little sense of imminent war.

Despite the lack of tourists, industry running at only a quarter capacity, and high unemployment, there is a sense of something almost like normality in the streets, compared to the tension which now exists in Serbian towns.

One recent opinion poll suggested that support for independence has grown to 36%, while 28% want the status quo with Serbia to continue.

Montenegin elite police unit
Montenegro's first line of defence: The elite police force

However nearly 23% want a new, more equal relationship with Serbia within a Confederal Yugoslavia - a proposal which the present authorities in Belgrade refuse even to discuss.

Montenegro's rulers have been sitting on the fence for two years but, after Friday night's vote, they are now clinging to it.

And the fence is leaning ever more strongly in the direction of independence.

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See also:

08 Jul 00 | Europe
Montenegro defies Belgrade
06 Jul 00 | Europe
Power boost for Milosevic
06 Jul 00 | Europe
Milosevic: No signs of bowing out
16 Jun 00 | Europe
Milosevic blamed for shooting
16 Jun 00 | Europe
Serbia: The politics of bloodshed
24 Mar 00 | Europe
Milosevic still standing strong
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