- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

PODGORICA, Serbia-Montenegro — A declaration of independence making Montenegro the world’s newest nation could come as early as Friday, but lingering objections to the results of a May 21 referendum have spoiled some of the fun for Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

The ballot, in which pro-independence forces narrowly achieved a supermajority threshold demanded by the European Union, was the crowning glory of Mr. Djukanovic’s career.

But the pro-unionist bloc, which favors maintaining the Serbia-Montenegro federation, is refusing to accept the results even after international observers declaring the plebiscite to be free, fair and in accordance with international standards. The bloc claims thousands of ballots were cast illegally by registered voters from neighboring countries.

“I’m not surprised by such a position,” Mr. Djukanovic said in an interview. “This is part of their political tradition. Over the past 10 years or so, there have been only two outcomes for them. Either they will have won, or the vote has been stolen.”

Mr. Djukanovic charged that the pro-unionists, made up largely of ethnic Serbs, are encouraged in their intransigence by the Belgrade government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

“What is happening now in Montenegro is directly inspired by, and from, Mr. Kostunica’s office in Belgrade,” Mr. Djukanovic said. “Mr. Kostunica, as a through-and-through nationalist, would like to leave to Serb nationalists an open issue that some [territorial issues] are open to dispute for Serbia beyond its border.”

Congratulations on the referendum result have already come in from Mr. Djukanovic’s counterparts in neighboring Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. But Mr. Kostunica has been silent.

Still, the prime minister maintained that opposition challenges couldn’t change the results, which he said are indisputable and represent the will of the Montenegrin people.

Before the referendum, the European Union, skittish about reigniting the ethnic tensions that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, mandated that the pro-independence bloc obtain at least a 55 percent majority in order for the EU to accept the desire for independence.

The pro-independence bloc cleared that threshold by about half a percentage point. The election commission is expected to ratify the results this week and send them to parliament for confirmation. That should be followed by a parliamentary declaration of independence, which the prime minister said could come as soon as Friday.

That would formally end the Serbia-Montenegro federation that was born three years ago out of the last remnants of the former Yugoslavia. Civil war tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s, as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia all left the federation to form their own separate states.

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