Montenegro sees joint checkpoint as positive move

PODGORICA, Mar 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) An anti-smuggling agreement between Montenegro and the mainly Serbian Yugoslav army is an important step towards easing tensions between the country's two republics, both sides said on Monday.

The army and police announced on Saturday that they would set up a joint checkpoint to prevent smuggling and "terrorism" spilling over from Serbia's Kosovo province.

The agreement contrasted sharply with rhetoric from both sides in recent weeks which has stoked Western fears a new Yugoslav conflict could be in the making.

Montenegro, fed up with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's rule of the federation dominated by Serbia, has gradually implemented greater autonomy since pro-Western President Milo Djukanovic was elected in 1997.

This has raised tensions with Belgrade and the overwhelmingly Serb federal army, with each side accusing the other of trying to foment a conflict.

One of the parties in Djukanovic's ruling coalition said the customs agreement was a blow to Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, a Milosevic protege who leads Montenegro's opposition.

Djukanovic has accused Bulatovic of trying to destabilize Montenegro ever since he took over the presidency.

"This is obviously a slap in the face to Momir Bulatovic and proof that he does not control the army," Podgorica daily Vijesti quoted People's Party leader Dragan Soc as saying.

"This agreement is also a proof that the Montenegrin government is ready to tone down tensions, work towards stability and establish normal ties between the army and civilian institutions," Soc said.

The main opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) also welcomed the deal but claimed the credit for itself.

"SNP has been telling the Montenegrins of the intentions of the regime to embark on the path of conflict. We believe that our invitation to take the road of understanding, dialogue and compromise...have contributed to this move and the public meeting between the police and the army," SNP vice-president Predrag Bulatovic told Vijesti.

The checkpoint on the road from the eastern Montenegrin town of Rozaje over mountains to the western Kosovo city of Pec, was set up on Saturday.

A Montenegrin Interior Ministry official was quoted as saying another one would be established on the road leading to Bozaj, a recently opened border crossing between Montenegro and Albania.

The Yugoslav army is one of the last federal institutions still functioning in Montenegro, which stepped up its autonomy moves after Belgrade's conflict with NATO over Kosovo last year.

Original article