Serbian opposition leader seeks Montenegrin support

SVETI STEFAN, Yugoslavia, Sep 10, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbian opposition leader and presidential hopeful Vojislav Kostunica met a Montenegrin official on Saturday to try to enlist support for his bid to oust Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Kostunica had previously criticized the decision by the smaller republic's pro-Western leadership to boycott the polls. Saturday's talks seemed to be part of an attempt to mend ties.

Montenegrin parliament speaker Svetozar Marovic said Montenegro would help Kostunica in the hope of opening the way to negotiations on reshaping the joint state, which is currently dominated by Serbia. But he stopped short of saying how.

"We expect the democratic representatives of Serbia and Montenegro to sit down and arrange all aspects of our union," Marovic told reporters.

"We trust in that decision and we believe that this decision can be democratic and that's why we want not only to say we hope, but also to say we are ready to help the democratic forces in Serbia and Kostunica ... so we could finally sit down and make a deal together," he said.

Kostunica said relations were improving, but that the issue of how to approach the elections was difficult to solve.

"I can say that our conversations are getting better and better," he said.


"There are certain differences in our views over the role that these elections could play. It is natural to have those differences. The situation in Serbia is not the same as in Montenegro," he said.

Montenegro, which has taken gradual steps away from Belgrade and tried and failed to persuade Milosevic to reshape Yugoslavia, has said the parliamentary and presidential elections due on September 24 are illegitimate.

Kostunica said the situation was tough but that both sides wanted Serbia and Montenegro to reach a democratic arrangement.

"The circumstances are extremely complicated and it is hard to reach a simple solution in such circumstances. Both sides are aware of their responsibility, aware of the difficulty of the moment and of something that is beyond all this and that is our common goal - a democratic deal between Serbia and Montenegro."

One of the concerns of the Serbian opposition was that the Montenegrin government's boycott would leave no one to monitor the poll, which is being arranged in the republic by the pro-Milosevic opposition and Belgrade, for possible fraud.

Marovic said the Montenegrin government had almost completed an agreement with the Montenegrin opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) on monitoring the vote.

"We will do our best to help make these elections a true image of the Montenegrin citizens' will. We lay our hopes in an arrangement with the SNP. We have already made a deal with them on monitoring the elections and we have almost finalized the text of the agreement," he said.

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