War In The Balkans: Serbs set up checkpoints at Montenegro crossings

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The Independent Online
SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC yesterday tightened the noose on Montenegro, the Yugoslav republic which has repeatedly been at odds with Belgrade.

The republic is slipping constantly closer towards war.

The Yugoslav army set up checkpoints at all Montenegro's main border crossings. "It's getting worse. They want to throttle us," one government official said.

The Montenegrin president, Milo Djukanovic, warned that there should be no "dual power". But such dual power - where government forces and the army argue it out between themselves - is exactly what Montenegro now faces.

Many in Montenegro fear that a coup is just around the corner - a coup which would almost certainly be followed by civil war. Montenegrin television showed army bunkers with newly set-up machine-gun positions at checkpoints along the coastal road towards the border with Croatia. The deputy prime minister, Dragisa Burzan, travelled to the coastal town of Herceg Novi to try to negotiate the removal of the army roadblocks, but without apparent success.

Government officials also said tanks and heavy artillery are positioned around the town of Cetinje. Hundreds of soldiers have moved in recent days into the town, the old Montenegrin royal capital and a heartland of Montenegrin nationalism. Until now, Cetinje has been virtually army free because the troops were still wary of provoking head-on conflict.

Even now, Cetinjans are determined not to be cowed. What was officially described as a "fairly tense situation" arose when Yugoslav soldiers demanded rooms in a hotel, only to be told none were available.

On the one hand, their independent standpoint cannot be tolerated by Belgrade. On the other, further conflict in Montenegro might help to distract Serbs from rebelling against their own government.

In an interview with The Independent this month, President Djukanovic made it clear that Montenegro would certainly seek to break away from Serbia if Mr Milosevic remains in power. In those circumstances, he said, a single Yugoslav federation was "not feasible". Mr Djukanovic acknowledged that such a breakaway would almost certainly be accompanied by civil war. Montenegro was an independent kingdom before union with Serbia in 1918.

The army this week turned back an Italian lorry of humanitarian aid, after confiscating the aid itself. Two truckloads of French medical and food aid were confiscated at the weekend.

The current tensions may recede again in the next few days, for the moment at least. But none of the underlying difficulties has been solved.

Control over Montenegro's borders has in recent weeks been ambivalent. Its government seeks to allow foreigners in, but the army does not recognise the government's authority to issue entry papers.

The government has tried hard to remain uninvolved in the war. For Belgrade, this merely compounds the Montenegrins' offence. They are now accused of "treachery".