- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The leader of one of the world’s smallest countries has some advice for upstart nations: You have a friend in the United States.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro said the United States, more than any other nation, has played a key role in developing his fledgling state’s military, legal system and police.

“The United States has helped us with our police, our court system and helped us get our military prepared for NATO,” Mr. Djukanovic, 47, said.

Montenegro is one of the world’s smallest countries with a population of 622,000 and a gross domestic product of $4.82 billion as of 2008.

The country was part of Yugoslavia for much of the 20th century and was considered a province of Serbia by the international community until 2006 when more than half of Montenegro voted to secede from Serbia.

Since then Mr. Djukanovic, who was first elected prime minister of Montenegro in 1991 and has been the country’s president or prime minister for all but two of the past 19 years, has built many institutions from scratch.

“It frequently seems to me it’s better to build something from scratch, than reform an old institution,” he said. “In building institutions we rely heavily on our international friends including the United States.”

He said Montenegro has partnered with the state of Maine in training its 2,500-soldier army, which had been the headquarters of the old Yugoslav army’s helicopter force.

Mr. Djukanovic was in Washington last week for meetings with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, two politicians he has met before when they were senators.

“It was an opportunity to reflect at the progress in the Balkans,” he said. “This was an opportunity for some historical recollections. Most importantly we were able to share the pleasure of the progress Montenegro has made in the past 15 years.”

During the late 1990s, Mr. Djukanovic was seen as an ally of the West against Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serbian leader who tried to cleanse Kosovo of ethnic Albanians and Bosnia of its Muslims and Croats.

“In 1995, I spoke to Biden about our efforts to keep Montenegro as a multiethnic state, [and received his full support],” he said.

Mr. Djukanovic noted that many states considering secession now look to Montenegro as a model. He said one of his American legal advisers told him in his visit that southern Sudan, which has a referendum on secession scheduled for next year, was interested in learning from Montenegro’s experience.

“What he told me was pleasing to hear,” Mr. Djukanovic said. “We were joking that the Montenegrin model could be our next export product.”

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