Milosevic foes seek joint strategy in Montenegro

SVETI STEFAN, Yugoslavia, Jul 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) Montenegrin officials and Serbian opposition leaders agreed on Friday to work towards creating a new union of the two republics following a crisis over constitutional changes.

A mildly-worded joint statement, read out by Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic after several hours of talks in the seaside resort of Sveti Stefan, made only oblique references to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Yugoslavia itself.

The future of the Yugoslav federation, now made up of just two of the original six republics, was thrown into doubt last week by changes to the Yugoslav constitution which critics saw as designed to let Milosevic stay in power for eight more years.

The Montenegrin parliament rejected the changes, saying they stripped the republic of its equal status in the federation and destroyed federal Yugoslavia in its current form.

"Democratic forces in Montenegro and Serbia condemn in the strongest possible terms and resolutely reject the latest constitutional changes," said the statement, drawn up amid a sharp increase in tensions between the two republics.

On Friday, army commanders headed by Chief of Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic met in the Montenegrin capital to "assess the level of combat readiness and give instructions for concrete tasks in the coming period", the state news agency Tanjug said, without elaborating.


The West and many in Montenegro fear possible clashes between the republic's police and supporters of Milosevic backed by Yugoslav army units if Montenegrin leaders go ahead with threats to call a referendum on independence.

The Serbian opposition is eager for powerful Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic to back its struggle against Milosevic, hoping to regain ground and support lost in recent years as a result of its divisions.

"Our main common goal is to topple Milosevic and his regime. And we are here to agree how to do this and how to reach basic principles of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro," Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic earlier told reporters.

But Djukanovic and his officials - who face pressure from pro-independence forces in their coalition government - are circumspect about how much they can get involved in what they see as Serbia's internal affairs.

The seven-point statement seemed to reflect that, calling for changes of the political system in Serbia, rapid economic development of Serbia and Montenegro, and changes to the union of the two republics, without mentioning Yugoslavia by name.

It said democratic forces in the two republics would work together to establish "a stable, successful and European union of Montenegro and Serbia", making clear that such a union would involve a substantial level of self-rule for the republics.

They would do this "regardless of attempts by destructive political groups to halt progress and to keep our country isolated from the world for ever in order to preserve their own privileges", the statement said.

It was a clear reference to Milosevic and his allies, but much more oblique than usually used by the two groups.

The Montenegrin leadership has been praised by the West for not taking any rash counter-measures after the constitutional changes cut it out of federal decision-making, and after strong criticism by the Yugoslav army, which has units in the republic.

Democratic Party of Serbia leader Vojislav Kostunica said the two sides had also discussed whether they should boycott federal elections as a result of the changes but did not take any final decision, the independent news agency Beta said.

Original article