US tells Serbia to keep out of Montenegro

TIRANA, Jan 14 (Reuters) - A senior U.S. official said on Friday that Montenegro could become the next Balkan flashpoint and warned Serbia not to bully its pro-Western neighbour.

Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocombe said the United States and NATO supported President Milo Djukanovic in his efforts to build democracy in the small republic, which is still tied to Serbia in the Yugoslav Federation.

Any attempt to interfere with the process would be a "serious mistake", Slocombe told reporters during a one-day visit to Albania, which borders Montenegro to the south.

"The situation in Montenegro does hold all the potential for very serious danger," Slocombe said.

"But we are confident that with good sense from all sides, a crisis could be avoided."

Supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic held a large, defiant rally in Montenegro on Thursday, aimed at warning the republic's government not to try to break away.

Montenegro has threatened to declare independence from the Yugoslav Federation and took a first step in November by introducing the mark as a currency alongside the dinar.

Slocombe dismissed suggestions by some Yugoslav officials that Serbian forces could soon return to Kosovo, the Serbian province they were forced to leave last year by NATO-led forces.

"The government in Belgrade understands the extraordinarily serious consequences that would follow any attempt at violating the ceasefire and the agreement to withdraw all Serbian forces from Kosovo," Slocombe said

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