Army retreats from Montenegro airport

THE AIRPORT at Podgorica, capital of Montenegro, reopened yesterday after a standoff between Yugoslav troops and Montenegrin police.

The Yugoslav Army (VJ) withdrew anti-aircraft guns and soldiers who had been deployed at the airport since Wednesday afternoon, prompting fears of a war between Serbia andMontenegro - the pro-Western junior partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Montenegro's moves for greater independence have enraged the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic.

The confrontation was defused after talks between the VJ commander of the units at the airport, which has military and civilian sectors, and Milan Paunovic, Montenegro's deputy interior minister. Only eight VJ soldiers were seen at the airport entrance yesterday. A Montenegro Airlines plane left on schedule on a flight to Budapest at the end of the 12-hour closure forced by the stand-off.

The Yugoslavs seized the airport after objections to a hangar being built by Montenegrin police for their helicopters. Part of the airport has been under military control since it was built decades ago.

Belgrade accuses Montenegro of replacing federal army forces with its own police as part of its moves towards independence. Montenegro has already acted to separate its economy from Serbia's, notably by declaring the German mark as legal tender.

Last week the Montenegrin parliament adopted a law on state property which treats the airports of Podgorica and in the coastal town of Tivat as the exclusive property of Montenegro. Analysts said it was possible that the VJ wanted to cause additional tension and "show some muscle" as the new law came into force yesterday.

Belgrade offered no explanation for the airport takeover. But Vojislav Seselj, deputy premier of Serbia, and a leading Milosevic ally, warned against any move to threaten Belgrade's control: "Podgorica ... is of strategic importance for the defence of the country."

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