War in the Balkans: Montenegro - Embargo `will ruin republic'

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The Independent Online
MONTENEGRO'S Foreign Minister said yesterday that Nato's oil embargo would spell "total disaster" for his republic, a tiny island of democracy in Yugoslavia.

Branko Perovic said the renewed bombing would "play into Milosevic's hands" bystrengthening the main, pro-Serbian, opposition party. "They will be stronger. They'll say, `You are the traitors - the West, which you say supports you, is bombing Montenegro'."

The break-up of the last chunk of Yugoslavia now seems increasingly on the cards andMr Perovic said Slobodan Milosevic was directly to blame. "He is the best supporter of the idea of an independent Montenegro. The possibility of secession is increasing with each passing day. One single shot against democracy and stability here will mean the end of Yugoslavia."

Mr Perovic believes Mr Milosevic "will do his best to make a coup", but he warned: "He'll find us very ready."

The pressure on Montenegro is building daily. "We had some meetings with the military commanders. They asked for total censorship - we didn't permit it. They asked for one of our TV channels to be given to them - we didn't allow it. They asked for the police force to be put under their command - we didn't allow it. This is the last oasis of multi-ethnic society in what was Yugoslavia."

As in Kosovo, there has been a change of the military guard, so that the commanders are loyal to Mr Milosevic. The Yugoslav army has forces of about 20,000 in Montenegro; the Montenegrin government has at its disposal around 12,000 police and special forces. A clash could erupt at any moment.

Mr Perovic suggested the intimidation of foreign journalists - a French cameraman has been charged with espionage and a BBC film crew was held at gunpoint - was a deliberate strategy "to put pressure on Western journalists to leave and to prepare the ground for something without any witnesses".