Montenegro protests as Serb police block border
KOLOVRAT, Yugoslavia, Mar 7, 2000 -- (Reuters) Huge queues of trucks formed on Serbia's border with Montenegro on Monday after Serbian police imposed a total blockade on the flow of goods between the two Yugoslav republics.
Montenegro's pro-West government said the blockade was designed to destabilize the smaller republic, which is gradually edging away from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian-dominated federation in protest at his policies.
About 50 trucks lined up at Kolovrat, which marks the administrative border line, and many more assembled in the town of Prijepolje four km (three miles) away.
Police set up a checkpoint nearly two years ago to control people and goods on their way to Montenegro but the first signs of a total trade blockade were reported at the weekend.
Officers searched all trucks, private cars and passenger buses on Monday. Trucks carrying consumer goods were not allowed through and any large quantities of merchandise were being confiscated from private car owners or bus passengers.
Montenegro's Pobjeda daily said over the weekend the police also stopped Yugoslav army trucks carrying food for troops based in Montenegro, sparking angry exchanges.
RESIDENTS REPORT SCUFFLE
Police were unavailable for comment but local residents reported they had heard of a scuffle breaking out on Friday when police refused to let through two fuel trucks for the army.
A bus driver carrying fruit to the Bosnian Serb republic via Montenegro said on Monday no produce was allowed to Montenegro.
"I've been here for 48 hours. The customs procedure was completed 72 hours ago, the deadline for shipping the goods out of the country has expired," the driver told Reuters.
The Montenegrin newspaper Pobjeda quoted the republic's trade minister, Ramo Bralic, as saying Belgrade's behavior was politically motivated to provoke dissatisfaction in Montenegro and "discipline" its authorities for their links with the West.
"Raising political tensions and destabilizing Montenegro is a permanent task of the Belgrade regime," he said.
Montenegro, the last republic left with Serbia in Yugoslavia, has distanced itself from Milosevic's government since President Milo Djukanovic was elected in 1997.
It legalized the German mark as a parallel currency last year to escape inflationary trends in Serbia. Serb police retaliated by stopping certain goods from entering Montenegro.
Montenegrin Economy Minister Vojin Djukanovic said a full economic blockade on Montenegro was "another show of madness of the Belgrade regime, which is deliberately harming Montenegro".
He told Pobjeda that Montenegro would not retaliate by closing its border to Serbia but would find alternative markets to secure its needs.