- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

Serbia and Montenegro yesterday agreed to a new union with greater autonomy and a name different from Yugoslavia, sparing the war-torn Balkans yet another border redrawing.

The United States welcomed the decision as promoting regional stability.

The historic accord, which shelves Montenegro's independence plans for at least three years, is viewed as a major success for Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Western diplomacy. Both the United States and Europe feared that a breakup could lead to renewed instability in the region.

"This document sets the shape of completely new relations between the states of Serbia and Montenegro," Mr. Kostunica said after the signing ceremony in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. "This step means a break with the previous regime" of former strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who is now on trial for war crimes at The Hague tribunal.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who had been leading an independence campaign since before Mr. Milosevic's ouster in October 2000, prepared to face criticism at home yesterday, but said he expected the parliament in Podgorica, the capital, to approve the accord.

"I think the political public in Montenegro has every reason to be satisfied with what we have achieved with this agreement, most importantly all results of economic reforms that Montenegro has achieved over the past year have been preserved," he said.

According to the agreement, the new state will be called "Serbia and Montenegro" and will have a single-chamber parliament, which will elect a president. Elections are to take place in the fall, and the new name won't be adopted officially until the new parliament, as well as the two republics' legislators, ratify the accord, Mr. Kostunica said.

A five-member government will be in charge of foreign and defense policy, both domestic and external economic relations, as well as protection of minorities and human rights. The armed forces will be under the command of a council consisting of the federal president and the presidents of Serbia and Montenegro.

After three years, both republics will be able to hold referendums on independence.

The Serbian and Montenegrin leaders were joined at the ceremony by Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign and defense policy chief, who played an instrumental role in brokering the agreement.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher commended the Serbian and Montenegrin leadership and said the United States will continue to use the name Yugoslavia until the three parliaments vote to drop it formally.

"The agreement is in line with our long-standing view that there can be, should be a democratic Montenegro within a democratic Yugoslavia," he said. "We believe that the agreement signed today will help Serbia and Montenegro best achieve their aspirations to fully integrate with Europe and will promote stability within Yugoslavia and the region."

Montenegro was the only member of the Cold War-era Yugoslavia not to break away in the early 1990s, when Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence, prompting Mr. Milosevic to start a series of wars that ended with the 1995 U.S.-brokered Dayton accords.

The tiny Adriatic republic's alliance with Serbia began to crumble in 1997 when Mr. Djukanovic distanced himself from Mr. Milosevic. In 1999, the Montenegrin president supported NATO's air campaign against Serbia over Kosovo.

In an interview with The Washington Times last month, Mr. Kostunica said his government would grant independence to Montenegro if it voted in a referendum to break away from Yugoslavia.

"Our government will accept the will of the majority but qualified and weighted majority in Montenegro, under circumstances in which the referendum is completely democratic. It means a clear question, a clear majority," he said.

Asked whether a "clear majority" meant 50 percent plus one, as opposed to a two-thirds majority, Mr. Kostunica said there were "a few possibilities," but the "most natural" was 50 percent plus one "of the whole electorate."


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