EU, OSCO warn of destabilization of Montenegro

BRUSSELS, Mar 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) European officials rallied round Montenegro on Wednesday, pledging to help Serbia's pro-Western sister republic withstand the destabilizing influence of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The European Union's External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, said at the start of a two-day meeting of international donors for the Balkans "there are quite clearly attempts by Milosevic to destabilize Montenegro".

He said the EU was set on providing "adequate assistance" to Montenegro, despite the fact it is barred from receiving funds from international financial organizations such as the World Bank because it is part of Yugoslavia.

His concerns were echoed by Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, speaking in her capacity as current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"...We think we have to do something, because there's really great tension and if we don't do something there quickly, there could be a greater conflict," she told a news conference.

"I had my special representative go to Montenegro a good week ago. I can only say we see many signs that social unrest is being reinforced and that of course a civil war could break out."

Montenegro's leader Milo Djukanovic said in a newspaper interview on Wednesday he believed Milosevic was sowing the seeds of a new conflict in the tiny Adriatic republic.

Djukanovic said relations with Yugoslavia were deteriorating and accused Milosevic of recruiting a special army battalion to be used to overthrow his government.

Montenegro was one of the attendees at the donors conference, at which the international community is seeking to encourage countries in the volatile Balkans region to work to overcome ethnic tensions through the promise of cash.

Opening the two-day meeting Patten reiterated the West's message that Serbia - while included in the so-called Stability Pact - will not benefit from substantial aid while Milosevic is in power.

"While Milosevic is still in power the serious money stays in the vault," Patten said, describing the Serb leader as "a brooding presence, locking Yugoslavia into a bleak winter".

"Montenegro has taken a different path to Serbia. We are determined to give the Montenegrin people our support," he said.

EU leaders, meeting in Lisbon last week, said substantial aid was urgently needed for Montenegro "to ensure the survival of democratic government and to avoid another serious crisis in the region."

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