YU army denies on alert in Montenegro

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia, Feb 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) The Yugoslav army denied in a statement published on Monday that it had raised its combat readiness in Montenegro after last week's reopening there of a border crossing with Albania.

The statement from the information office of Yugoslavia's Second Army, whose area of responsibility includes West-leaning Montenegro, in the daily Dan said it was carrying out only regular activities.

It was responding to a report on Sunday in the Montenegrin pro-government daily Pobjeda that the army was on increased readiness after Montenegro and Albania on Thursday reopened the long-closed Bozaj border crossing.

Pobjeda said soldiers and heavy weaponry had been deployed near the crossing, which Yugoslavia closed in 1997 when Albania plunged into anarchy.

On Monday, the independent Podgorica daily Vijesti said the army had closed the road leading to the crossing on Sunday evening and was not letting traffic through.

But a Reuters reporter, who visited the border crossing on Saturday and again on Monday, said it was open to traffic on both days, there was no army blockade on the road and no sign of an increased army presence.

The army statement in Dan said "All reports which appeared yesterday in some media are groundless and aimed at disturbing the public and again blaming the Second Army for it."

Dan is close to the Socialist People's Party, which is in opposition in Montenegro but is loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Montenegro, which with the larger republic of Serbia now forms Yugoslavia, has distanced itself from Belgrade's policies since NATO's 11-week bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 over Serbia's repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

It has increased its autonomy in finance and foreign policy, leaving the Yugoslav army as the last joint institution still functioning in both republics.

Last week, NATO's military chief, U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, described the situation in Montenegro as very tense and said the alliance was closely watching developments there.

The ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of Western-backed Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic earlier this month again accused the Yugoslav army of setting up destabilizing paramilitary units in Montenegro. The army has denied this.

Original article