Army barriers on Montenegrin border

War Trumpets - Blockade of Bozaj border crossing reminds of the deja vu scenes in Croatia and Bosnia. Is the shadow of war hovering over Montenegro?


WED, 08 MAR 2000

Podgorica, 2 March, 2000 - The Army of Yugoslavia is deploying again its forces along Montenegrin border and strategic sites of crucial significance for Montenegro’s capability to communicate with the world: border crossings, airports, seaside towns. This time the immediate cause for intensified army activities on the territory of Montenegro was signing of Montenegrin-Albanian agreement on opening of the border crossing in Bozaj, in the region of Tuzi near Podgorica.

A part of the units of the Second Army, by order of commander general Milorad Obradovic, were put on the alert and the road leading to Bozaj border crossing was blocked. In this region populated mostly by ethnic Albanians, major movements of the units of the Army of Yugoslavia (VJ) were also observed.

The impression that the undesired developments have started to accelerate was partly alleviated by the statement issued by the information service of the Second Army provoked by articles in daily press which presented the events as dramatic and threatening to peace in Montenegro. The army explained the movements of its troops in the region of Tuzi as "carrying out regular duties which are part of regular combat preparations". In this "explanation", the information service of the Second Army added the following: "Establishing a connection between these activities with signing of the agreement between representatives of the government of the Republic of Montenegro and the Republic of Albania on opening Bozaj border crossing is without any foundation and VJ resolutely rejects such accusations as unfounded and tendentious". In its information, the Army did not fail to remind that the decision of the Supreme Defence Council and the decree of the federal government of 13 March 1997 pursuant which the state border with Albania was closed - both from Montenegro and from Serbia - were still in force. And since Serbia, after the peace agreement signed between FRY and NATO, does not border Albanian any more, is it "logical" that the decision and the decree refer solely to Montenegro ?

According to the military and technical agreement signed in Kumanovo between FRY (Serbia) and NATO generals, the air safety zone that VJ has no access to any more is 25 kilometres from the border of Kosovo inside the territory of FRY, and on the ground it is 5 kilometres. On these 5 kilometres of the so-called buffer-zone inside Serbia, KFOR is permitted to intervene. Should one be reminded that in order to enter the air-space of FRY, NATO air-forces need no permission of the federal government?

However, this refers only to the border with Kosovo. In Montenegro, according to the decree of the federal government, the situation is just the opposite. The zone of five kilometres inside the territory of Montenegro along the border is reserved for VJ troops. This means that Montenegrin state is in a similar position in relation to FRY to that of the latter in relation to the international forces in Kosovo. And while Serbia is bordering KFOR, Montenegro is on its territory bordering the Army of Yugoslavia. That is why the answer to the following question is of crucial significance for it: is VJ still playing its dangerous role of Montenegrin customs official?

A high officer from the command of the Second Army says the following about these recent developments: "In the evening, on Friday, 25 February, on the day when Bozaj crossing was opened, by order of the commander of the Second Army, a part of the units of VJ was put on the alert. The unit of military police of the Second Battalion, equipped with combat armoured vehicles was sent to the region of Dubrava near Tuzi. Parts of the 326th artillery brigade from Danilovgrad, along with the already deployed forces, were engaged in securing Golubovci airport. A part of this unit was sent to Radovce, and the Seventh battalion was put on the alert. All the officers in Masline army barracks where the corps command is deployed, the Fifth Motorised Brigade, the 56th Engineer Regiment, the 83rd Anti-Air Defence Brigade and other minor units on the level of a battalion are on the alert in the barracks and ready to be sent on missions".

Is the combat spirit of the army officers raised in this way? Does VJ consider Montenegrin authorities enemies of the federal "constitutional" system in Montenegro? And finally, which are the other direct aims of the taken military action?

Denials about the blockade of the road leading to Bozaj border crossing did not pass verification. Although it is true that way back in 1997 at the time of the unrest in Albania, FRY closed all border crossings towards this country, as the command of the Second Army claims in its statement, it is an established fact that since that time to this day, both people and goods have crossed that border via illegal channels. This was, of course, possible only with the approval of individuals from the army and the police who greatly benefited from the illegal flow. For a long time Montenegrin authorities have demanded that these flows be put under legal control. The federal government was also a loud critic of smuggling over the border, but did nothing to stop illegal trade, probably because the only efficient way to do it was to open border crossings and legalise the turnover…

All the previous attempts of Montenegrin authorities to open border crossings for free flow of people and goods met with resistance of the federal government. Even in the period of undisturbed operation of all crossings in Serbia.

The agreement of Montenegrin government with the Albanian on opening the crossing near Bozaj evidently did not instil enthusiasm into ministers in Belgrade. It could have been expected that the federal government would have what to say after the latest moves of the authorities in Montenegro - both concerning opening of the border with Albania, and concerning the invitation to the citizens of Slovenia to come to Montenegro without visas, as well as concerning the intention to negotiate with Croatia without participation of FRY.

At a meeting with the commander of the Second Army held on the eve of signing of the agreement and opening of the border crossing, Montenegrin prime minister Filip Vujanovic made an offer to general Obradovic for the army to participate in border control. Vujanovic even proposed establishment of mixed "customs" patrols which would consist of members of VJ and Montenegrin police! These patrols would control people and goods on the whole territory. The command of the Second Army, however, did not wish to accept this without the approval of official Belgrade.

The stand of Belgrade became known on Tuesday, 29 February already. At seven o’clock in the morning, members of VJ put up two road blocks and steel obstructions near Bozaj watchtowers, 2.5 kilometres from the crossing. The international road Podgorica-Skadar was blocked. There are soldiers at the blockades which are put up at about 500 metres one from the other.

This control put up without approval of Montenegrin authorities is contrary to the law on crossing the state border and rules of VJ border service. According to these documents, control and traffic on international roads and crossings are not jurisdiction of the army. The right and the duty to carry out this type of control belongs to the ministry of the interior and customs officials. Therefore it is clear that despite the laws, the army is taking over the jobs and the tasks it is not authorised to do.

In the army these activities are justified by "preventive actions" against possible raid of NATO troops from the territory of Albania. However, one has to be extremely incompetent for these matters and naïve to take this explanation for granted. Indeed, fifty men stationed in vicinity of Rozaj certainly would not be able to carry out this task. The road between Podgorica and Skadar was also blocked during NATO bombing by members of VJ - at the same place and with the same explanation. And this "similarity", there is no doubts, is no accident. Because just during the bombing, members of VJ caused 153 incidents in close encounters with the police or ordinary citizens.

Besides, reinforcement of forces of the Seventh Battalion, bringing of 120 high officers from Serbia and their deployment at command posts in the units in whole of Montenegro, installing of TV transmitters, supplying and mounting radio equipment in army barracks, selective call up of the reserve forces - members of only one party, and movements of the army on the territory of Montenegro, all show that a psychological and propagandist war is going on and pressure exerted on Montenegro. Deputy chairman of the assembly of Montenegro, Predrag Popovic, said that "the situation causes concern".

And he seems to be right. It is known from previous wars, even those on the territory of former Yugoslavia that combination of propaganda, lies and accumulation of arms was the introduction into armed incidents which later developed into armed conflicts, at first of low and then of high intensity. And the capability of the authorities to preserve peace in Montenegro, it is estimated, could be tested at its state border.

Original article