Liberation of Kosovo: Yugoslavia - Serb troops swarm into Montenegro

Click to follow
The Independent Online
YUGOSLAV ARMY troops forced out of Kosovo by Nato bombing are reported to be pouring into Montenegro at an alarming rate, raising fears that Serbia's tiny neighbour is about to become the next victim of President Slobodan Milosevic's aggression.

The number of troops in Montenegro has risen to 40,000 - more than 5 per cent of the population. Many fear clashes between police loyal to the reformist Montenegrin government and Yugoslav troops loyal to Mr Milosevic.

Human-rights workers also warn that Serb paramilitaries fresh from Kosovo and from carrying out some of the worst atrocities in Europe since the Second World War have been fanning out through the republic - allegedly including forces belonging to the most notorious paramilitary, Arkan.

With pressure for Montenegrin independence from Belgrade continuing to grow in the aftermath of the Kosovo war it seems inevitable this will become the next Balkan flashpoint.

In a dramatic shift in attitude the moderate government has threatened to hold a referendum on independence if Belgrade refuses to accept the reformist government's demands for a more flexible federation.

Even the previously cautious Montenegrin establishment is eager to break away. More than half the professors at the University of Montenegro will today unveil a petition for independence - displaying a radicalism which would have seemed unthinkable only a few months ago.

If Mr Milosevic remains in power in Belgrade, the further splintering of the federation seems inevitable. Such an attempt at independence would certainly be accompanied by bloodshed. Mr Milosevic played a major role in driving Croatia and then Bosnia out of Yugoslavia - and then launched wars to help "preserve" the federation.

The Montenegrin President, Milo Djukanovic, first made it clear in an interview with The Independent last month that if Mr Milosevic remains in power, Montenegro will be forced to leave. To stay in Yugoslavia in those circumstances would "not be feasible".

The Montenegrin Prime Minister, Filip Vujanovic, has insisted that a referendum will be essential if the Serb regime refuses to modify its intransigent stance. He argues: "They [the authorities in Belgrade] want to maintain a regime in Montenegro which gives the army powers of a civilian government, to keep in place war criminal laws which restrict human rights and preserve censorship over the media to protect them from responsibility for what they have done."

Discontent at home in Serbia will, on past form, only encourage Mr Milosevic to unleash trouble elsewhere. The war in Croatia began just a few months after the biggest anti-government protests that Belgrade had seen. The war in Bosnia erupted a few months after the end of the war in Croatia, as Serbs began to be reminded that their economic and political position was worse than ever. On both occasions, the war against the alleged enemies of Serbia helped to distract from popular resentment of Mr Milosevic at home.

President Bill Clinton yesterday met President Djukanovic. According to the Montenegrin leader, Mr Clinton expressed "high appreciation" of Montenegro's resistance to the policies of Mr Milosevic. Mr Djukanovic expressed the hope that the United States will support Montenegro's ambitions "to build its relations with Serbia on a new democratic basis, on a basis that will ensure Montenegro has enough independence to continue with its policy of democratic and economic reforms".

So far, the rumbling dramas in Montenegro have remained as invisible as the dramas in Kosovo were before the outbreak of war last year. Miodrag Perovic, founder of the independent magazine Monitor, who faces a possible 10-year jail sentence by a Yugoslav military court for criticising the Yugoslav army, argued yesterday that the rest of the world fails to appreciate the dangers facing the republic. "I think that the West doesn't understand it at all. We're so small that we're not interesting for anybody among the great powers."

Some outsiders are equally worried. In the words of one human rights official: "Look at the pattern. When the soldiers went from Croatia after the war in 1991, they didn't go back to barracks. They went to the next war, in Bosnia. How many people will take off their uniforms in Kosovo, and then end up in the next war, in Montenegro?"