- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Montenegro President Milo Djukanovic said yesterday he is determined to push a referendum on independence from Yugoslavia, despite clear signs of opposition from the Bush administration and the European Union.
"The genie is out of the bottle," said Mr. Djukanovic, speaking through an interpreter at a daylong conference yesterday sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It is irrational to shut one's eyes to the totally changed situation in our region."
Mr. Djukanovic, who sided with NATO during the 1999 war with Yugoslavia over Kosovo, was wrapping up a Washington trip in which he met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill but was unable to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Adhering to the Clinton administration's policy, the Bush administration has opposed Montenegro's efforts to secede from Serbia, its much larger partner in the Yugoslav federation.
"We think it is time for the Balkans to be integrating, not disintegrating," Assistant Secretary of State James Dobbins told the Associated Press yesterday. Mr. Dobbins met with Mr. Djukanovic Friday.
The United States and the European Union fear that an independence move by Montenegro could unsettle the situation in Kosovo, where the huge ethnic Albanian majority also wants independence from Serbia.
With the ouster of Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic by a reformist coalition in October, U.S. officials fear a push by pro-independence forces in Montenegro could undermine support for the fragile democratic regime.
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who met with Mr. Powell Friday, argued that decisions on the status of Montenegro and Kosovo should be put off for now as his new government focuses on rebuilding the country's economy and political institutions.
The Montenegrin republic plans parliamentary elections April 22, with Mr. Djukanovic's government hoping to schedule a popular vote on independence from Serbia sometime around the end of June.
Public opinion polls put support for independence among Montenegro's 650,000 citizens at between 55 percent and 60 percent. Srdjan Darmanovic, an official at the Montenegrin Center for Democracy and Human Rights, said yesterday that the pro-independence tally could receive a significant boost if Mr. Djukanovic's forces score well in the parliamentary vote.
Mr. Djukanovic denied that Montenegro's vote would destabilize the region or worsen the tensions in Kosovo.
"It is quite logical that we should bear the burden of the instability of the Balkans over a prolonged period," he said. "But we do not want to be slaves of that heritage, to carry that burden forever."

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