Guard on Milosevic's enemy within

In the turbulent Yugoslav republic of Montenegro and in Kosovo, the struggle for power is between friends as well as foes
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The Independent Online
n the third floor of the Montenegro Hotel, two armed men sit chatting, playing cards and generally making themselves useful, day and night. In the downstairs lobby, a couple of more sit back in the deep armchairs, stroking their sub-machine-guns and gossiping about life.

The man they are here to protect is in room 314, and his protectors are always on duty. When he wants to go out, the men on the third floor and in the lobby become alert; they are joined by several more men with guns. Escorted by this little flock of tall men with distrustful eyes, a tired- looking man in a suit walks across the lobby to a waiting silver Mercedes. In he gets, and off they all go. This ritual is repeated several times a day.

Normally, one might expect two possible explanations for this banal and extraordinary performance in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica. Either the man in the suit needs protection from agents of lawlessness: he is worried about terrorists or hired hitmen; or, in slightly more peculiar countries, he is himself a dodgy mafioso type who wants to protect himself from the ineffective powers that be.

In the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, neither explanation applies, though there are confused elements of both. The man in room 314 is the deputy prime minister of Montenegro. The people he is on the run from are the Yugoslav armed forces, who want to bring him before a military court. The clash of wills is an extraordinary and typical example of the weightlessness of Montenegro today. Nobody knows who is in control, and both sides carry large amounts of weapons in the hope that - if or when push comes to shove - they will win.

Lying back on the pillows, with his feet just off the edge of the bed, the deputy prime minister, Novak Kilibarda, plays with his car keys and explains why he is on the run from the military in his own country. When the Nato bombing campaign began, Mr Kilibarda argued that Montenegrins should not respond to the draft in this "senseless" war - whereupon the military police issued a warrant for his arrest. "I was accused of sapping the defence capability of the country."

The army tried to arrest him at the parliament, at his party offices and at his home. It then announced that Mr Kilibarda was a "wanted man". Hence the multiple police bodyguards - to protect him from arrest for treason.

The military action against Mr Kilibarda represents the army's desire to prove that it is the power in the land. The army represents Belgrade, and Slobodan Milosevic. The police who protect Mr Kilibarda represent the Montenegrin government, led by President Milo Djukanovic. Both snarl at each other across the barricades.

The knock-on effects of such confrontations are clear. Mr Kilibarda insists that the Yugoslav structures are illegitimate - in effect, preparing the way for secession. "We can't say that Yugoslavia as a federal state is functioning. The Montenegrin government doesn't recognise a single decision by the federal government." He argues that Mr Milosevic has illegitimately taken all power to himself, to sideline the elected government of President Milo Djukanovic. "In order to reach a decision about the use of the Yugoslav army, a decision must be reached in the Supreme Council [where Montenegro is represented]. But Milosevic doesn't convene a meeting of the Council - in order to avoid Djukanovic."

Like many politicians in the Balkans, Mr Kilibarda has rattling skeletons of his own. His conversion to democracy has been recent. He was once a warm supporter of Slobodan Milosevic, and his party included some of the most aggressive voices on the bombardment of the old Croat city of Dubrovnik, close to the Montenegrin border, in 1991.

He becomes indignant if you start asking questions about how his politics have or have not changed. In this part of the world, politicians regularly change their spots, and Mr Kilibarda thinks questions about Dubrovnik are irrelevant. "That was in the distant past. I don't know why you're so interested." Before I know it, I am drowning in an uninterrupted stream of invective about Britain's historic and imperial crimes.

When reluctantly dragged back on to the subject of modern Yugoslavia, Mr Kilibarda argues that, even if an alleged settlement on Kosovo can be found, the problems of the federation remain unsolved and perhaps insoluble. "Many people feel linked - we're still related to Serbs. But there's always the difficulty that Serbia will swallow up Montenegro. This federation isn't working."

If Mr Milosevic were to fall under a bus or put a gun to his head tomorrow, then there might still be some way out for what is left of Yugoslavia. But that looks unlikely. In those circumstances, the tough men outside room 314 are here to stay.