Montenegro sees tensions with Belgrade solved soon

PODGORICA, Jan 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said on Thursday he expected the high tension between the tiny republic and Slobodan Milosevic's federal Yugoslav authorities in Belgrade to be resolved this year.

But Djukanovic, who faces growing domestic pressure to make good on his threat to call a referendum on independence for Montenegro, stopped short of saying how.

"It is realistic to expect the Yugoslav political crisis to be resolved soon," he told a news conference.

"The futility of federal politics that are in conflict not only with the rest of the world but also with common sense is becoming more apparent."

Montenegro has been at odds with Serbia since Djukanovic was elected president in 1997 and began implementing market reforms.

Djukanovic does not recognize the federal government in Belgrade, led by his predecessor as Montenegrin president Momir Bulatovic, a protege of Yugoslav President Milosevic.

But he has not named a date for a referendum, on the advice of Western leaders who fear another Balkan conflict.

Domestic pressure for a plebiscite grew on Thursday when one of Djukanovic's coalition partners repeated threats to quit the government unless it called the vote soon.

"The alternative to a referendum is continuing the agony," said Zarko Rakcevic, president of the Social Democratic Party, arguing that meaningful reform was impossible until Montenegro's status was resolved.

"Procrastination and waiting are very dangerous for Montenegro and all its citizens because without a referendum there will be no reforms," he said.

Western envoy says referendum spells civil war

Wolfgang Petritsch, the West's top envoy in Bosnia, said on Wednesday moves towards a referendum would spell civil war in Montenegro.

While he plays a delicate balancing act between Serbian sympathizers in Montenegro and those pushing for independence, Djukanovic remains a fierce critic of Milosevic's policies.

"It is clear such a wasted concept cannot be an alternative to democracy and reforms. Therefore I think this year could bring the final resolution of the dispute of these two concepts, which are fighting on Yugoslavia's political scene," he said.

The Montenegrin president said he had received no answer from Belgrade to proposals to reform Yugoslavia he said he had put forward five months ago.

He said his government would not shy away from a referendum but would be patient for the time being, reforming its administration so that Montenegro could exist either on its own or with a future, reformed Serbia, its much bigger partner in the Yugoslav federation.

"Our patience is not a sign of our weakness but of responsible and evolutionary shaping of political reality and Montenegro's future," he said.

He said Montenegro was not interested in fighting Serbia, which has responded to Djukanovic's latest reform - the legalization of the German mark alongside the Yugoslav dinar - by blocking payments transactions and trade from Serbia.

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