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Sunday, April 4, 1999 Published at 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK

Analysis: Montenegro under threat

President Djukanovic: Under threat

By South-east Europe analyst, Gabriel Partos

Nato's air strikes against Yugoslavia have put President Milo Djukanovic and the rest of the Montenegrin leadership in an extremely difficult situation.

Kosovo: Special Report
That's because Mr Djukanovic has blamed what he has called the irrational policies of the Yugoslav President, President Slobodan Milosevic, for provoking Nato's attacks.

At the same time, Yugoslav air defence facilities on Montenegrin territory have been among the alliance's targets.

So, not surprisingly, Montenegro has also condemned Nato's action, and has argued that this was not the way to resolve the deadlock over Kosovo.

However, the real threat to Montenegro's stability comes not so much from the odd Nato air strike against Yugoslav military targets but, potentially, from the Yugoslav military itself.

Changing the guard

Within the past week President Milosevic has reshuffled the Yugoslav army's top brass and, as part of that, he has replaced the commander of the second army corps which is based in Montenegro.

The changing of the guard has been seen as the prelude to a possible attempt to remove the reformist Djukanovic leadership.

It was only five months ago that President Milosevic sacked the army's chief of staff, General Perisic, who apparently opposed an earlier attempt to stage a coup in Montenegro.

Long-standing dispute

In other words, Mr Milosevic's attempts to undermine the Montenegrin leadership go back a long time and are not related merely to the latest disagreement over how to resolve the situation in Kosovo.

Indeed, over the past two years Montenegro has angered Mr Milosevic by increasingly distancing itself from Serbia.

And since last year the Montenegrin leadership has refused to recognise the Yugoslav government which it claims President Milosevic has imposed unconstitutionally on the country.

Now the discord over Kosovo has made the divisions even wider. Montenegro has given its backing to the six-power Contact Group's peace plan for Kosovo and it's said it would welcome Nato's peacekeepers to police the deal.

Serbia has remained vehemently opposed to this solution and has now apparently opted for a policy of ethnic cleansing.

And it has been further irritated by Montenegro's refusal to put the republic on a war footing or to engineer an anti-Western war psychosis.

Beyond the current arguments over Kosovo, Serbia needs Montenegro for two strategic reasons.

  • Montenegro provides landlocked Serbia's access to the Adriatic Sea; it's home to the Yugoslav navy; and through its sea outlets it's an important base for commercial and smuggling activities.
  • Secondly, without Montenegro, the Yugoslav federation would come to an end because Serbia would be left without a partner.

That would further weaken Belgrade's claim to the assets of the former Yugoslavia of six republics, which fell apart in 1991, since it could no longer portray itself as the successor-state.


Meanwhile, Montenegro has been held back from outright independence by fear of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army; and by the likelihood of greater discord within Montenegro.

That's because a substantial minority of Montenegrins want to keep close ties with Serbia - after all Serbs and Montenegrins could hardly be more closely related.

But that close kinship also makes any attempt to use the Yugoslav army against Montenegro a very risky undertaking; it could provoke widespread mutiny.

A coup against the Montenegrin government could become Mr Milosevic's biggest gamble of all.

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