- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2000

PODGORICA, Montenegro The weekend appointment of a former ally of Slobodan Milosevic as prime minister of Yugoslavia, a move by newly elected President Vojislav Kostunica to consolidate power, looks set to push the republic of Montenegro further toward independence.

Instead of feeling comfortable with Mr. Kostunica, Montenegro appears to have a growing desire for independence since his election in September.

"The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia practically does not exist," said Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in a recent interview with The Washington Times. "The only two joint functions we still have are the army and air space control.

"During the last three years, Slobodan Milosevic exploited the army to threaten Montenegro in case it declared independence and used the air space control to prevent Western diplomats from landing at Podgorica airport."

Montenegro's leadership refused to participate in consultations to form the new Cabinet since more than 75 percent of Montenegrins boycotted federal elections in September.

On Saturday, the selection of Zoran Zizic from the Socialist People's Party as prime minister appears to have widened a growing divide between Serbia and Montenegro, analysts said.

His party had been aligned with Mr. Milosevic's ousted government and had been in opposition in Montenegro for three years.

Montenegro's ruling Democratic Party of Socialists issued a statement rejecting Mr. Zizic selection, saying: "We will not accept that kind of trading and will not bargain with Montenegro's future."

The depth of discontent became apparent last week when the U.N. General Assembly, over the objections of Mr. Djukanovic, re-admitted Yugoslavia as a member of the United Nations.

The Montenegrin president had insisted that Yugoslavia should not join international bodies until the future of the federation is decided by its two republics Serbia and Montenegro.

Frustrated by the embrace of Mr. Kostunica by the international community, Montenegro last week went ahead and announced a referendum on independence to be held by June.

Recent polls show that more than 55 percent of the population would vote for a permanent break from Yugoslavia.

More than 65 percent want Montenegro to have the status of an independent and internationally recognized state, even if it retains some loose association with Serbia.

Mr. Kostunica. for his part, is only recognized by the Montenegrin government as the democratic representative of Serbia and not the president of a unified state.

"While he is trying to save the Yugoslav Federation, approval of the independence referendum would effectively make him a king without a kingdom, said Miodrag Vlahovic," a prominent lawyer.

If Montenegro walks out, following the example of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia, Serbia will be alone and the federation will no longer exist.

Mr. Kostunica needs a working federal government in order to legitimize his presidency and the existence of Yugoslavia.

Some observers fear that if Montenegro declares independence, this may again destabilize the Balkans.

U.S. officials have repeatedly pressed Mr. Djukanovic to keep his republic joined with Serbia and preserve the Yugoslav Federation.

But Montenegrin officials reject such pressure.

"Any sort of cooperation with Serbia should be on the basis of Montenegro's independence, which would be achieved regardless of the international community's interests to preserve what was left of former Yugoslavia," said Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac.

Moreover, the continued presence of a Yugoslav army battalion in Montenegro stationed there by Mr. Milosevic in order to block independence raises the question of whether the new Belgrade leadership will deploy it openly should Montenegro declare statehood.

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