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Nato sees threat to Montenegro, warns Serbia

LISBON, Mar 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO's European military leader said on Wednesday that Serbia was clearly preparing for possible military action against its pro-Western neighbor Montenegro.

NATO Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark told a news conference that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was applying pressure on Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic.

"Both with military and paramilitary, and economic means, President Milosevic is putting in place the capabilities to take action," Clark said."That's the concern. We've seen this situation in the past."

Tiny Montenegro is Serbia's reluctant partner in the Yugoslav federation.

Clark declined to comment on any military preparations NATO may have made in the event of any Serbian action against Montenegro, but clearly warned Milosevic not to interfere.

"We've observed over the last six months how Milosevic has, step by step, tightened the noose around Mr. Djukanovic. We're watching this very closely. Mr. Milosevic should well understand what NATO's capabilities are," Clark said.

Djukanovic on Monday said he feared Milosevic might try to oust his government as a way of maintaining political power after he completes his current term as Yugoslav president next year, for which re-election is currently forbidden.

KOSOVO VISIT

Clark spoke days after a visit to Kosovo on the anniversary of a NATO bombing campaign that forced Milosevic to withdraw his troops from the province and to halt a Serb military campaign of violent expulsion of ethnic Albanians.

Clark declined to comment on reports that he and NATO's civilian head George Robertson had cut short their visit on Friday to Kosovo due to a perceived security threat there.

"We had various operational and informational issues that had to be sorted out and by the time we got there, we didn't have time to do everything on the itinerary," Clark said.

He said they avoided the northern flashpoint city of Mitrovica for organizational reasons.

"There wasn't anything specific about Mitrovica. We had to make a choice as to where to go, and it was much more important to go and see this community of poor Albanians," Clark added.

Diplomatic sources last week told Reuters that changes to the air route used by Clark and Robertson for security reasons halved their time on the ground.

Previous clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Mitrovica have caught NATO's KFOR peacekeeping troops in the middle, leaving an impression of chaos rather than the multi-ethnic society that the alliance has aimed to build.

Clark said Serbs were still returning to Kosovo, and most violence in the region was due to organized crime.

"There is some pressure against the Serbs and in some areas it is dangerous for the Serbs," he said. "But on the other hand, the 40,000-plus members of KFOR have been very effective...in protecting the Serbs."



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