Montenegro increases Albania ties

SHKODER, May 24, 2000 -- (Reuters) Montenegro said on Tuesday that growing cooperation with Albania was not a sign it was seeking to split from Serbia and it would be up to its citizens to decide on independence.

Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic, leader of Serbia's uneasy pro-Western partner, told reporters after meeting Albanian Prime Minister llir Meta that the small coastal state wanted to work with neighboring Albania despite Belgrade's objections.

Belgrade severed diplomatic ties with Tirana after Albania sided with NATO forces which bombed Serbia to force an end to repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo last year.

"Our cooperation with Albania is not a sign of a project for an independent Montenegro. Our project envisages the right of the Montenegrin people to decide about their future together with Serbia or independently," Vujanovic said.

"This could also be to the benefit of a democratic Serbia. But the stance of the present government in Belgrade does not seem relevant to us," Vujanovic said through an interpreter.

Vujanovic said the political situation in Montenegro, which has adopted the German mark as its currency, was stable and predicted that Montenegrins would back democratic reforms in local polls on June 11 in the capital Podgorica and Herceg-Novi.

"Our road towards Europe is clear. If Serbia wants to, it can come on board. If not we shall go it alone, but the citizens of Montenegro will decide."

Vujanovic and Meta agreed to boost cooperation in transport, trade and telecommunications. They re-opened a border crossing in February three years after it was closed when Albania descended into anarchy after investment schemes collapsed.

Inaugurating a fiber optic link between the Albanian and Montenegrin phone systems, Vujanovic placed the first symbolic call to his office.

In addition to boosting water, rail and air transport with Montenegro, the two leaders backed joint projects to clean up Shkoder lake which they share.

Up to 300 Albanians cross daily into Montenegro, some of them bringing back cheaper goods that have helped reduce prices.

Vujanovic said trade was restricted by the Yugoslav army, which polices Montenegro's frontier. The Prime ministers also agreed to step up the fight against trafficking of prostitutes and drugs.

Vujanovic said Montenegrin ethnic minorities in Albania and Albanian ethnic minorities in Montenegro should help promote cooperation between the two countries.

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