US calls on Belgrade to keep border open

WASHINGTON, Mar 1, 2000 -- (Reuters) The United States called on the government in Belgrade on Tuesday to dismantle a military checkpoint it said had been erected on the newly-opened frontier crossing between Montenegro and Albania.

"The United States is concerned by the Yugoslav army setting up a checkpoint last weekend and again today near the border crossing on Montenegro's border with Albania," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.

"We commend the Montenegrin officials for their show of restraint and their efforts to prevent the situation from escalating and we call on Belgrade to dismantle the Yugoslav army checkpoint...," he said.

The independent Podgorica daily Vijesti said on Monday 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.

And an army statement carried by daily Dan on Monday 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."

On Monday the Yugoslav army had said a decision in 1977 to close the border remained in force, effectively declaring illegal last week's decision by the authorities in Montenegro to reopen it.

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 last year over Serbia's repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

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

Referring to the border opening, Rubin said the United States welcomes efforts to create cooperation in a region that had been "crippled by mistrust and confrontation for much of the last decade."

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