Kostunica acts to halt breakaway of rebel republic

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The Independent Online

Yugoslavia's new President, Vojislav Kostunica, dashed to Montenegro yesterday to try to hold together the unravelling federation between Serbia and the tiny republic.

Yugoslavia's new President, Vojislav Kostunica, dashed to Montenegro yesterday to try to hold together the unravelling federation between Serbia and the tiny republic.

Podgorica, the city he flew to, used to be called Titograd after the dictator who created modern Yugoslavia. Now Serbia and Montenegro are all that is left - and the Montenegrins are not sure they want to stay at all.

The fall of Slobodan Milosevic has pulled the rug from under Montenegro's feet. A few weeks ago, the United States and its allies were egging on the Montenegrins as they inched towards independence.

Mr Kostunica has said that if the Montenegrins choose to leave the Yugoslav federation he will not stop them. But suddenly the Americans are pushing the two republics back into each others' arms. Ostensibly, that is because of the new, democratic Serbia. But in reality the US needs a federal Yugoslavia to fulfil its plans for Kosovo to become an independent republic within the federation.

Mr Kostunica had other problems to deal with yesterday. The Montenegrin President, Milo Djukanovic, made a disastrous miscalculation when he chose to boycott the elections that unseated Mr Milosevic. The boycott has left only Mr Milosevic's Socialist allies representing Montenegro in the federal parliament. Mr Kostunica needs to appoint a federal Prime Minister to form a government, and constitutionally, since he is Serbian, the premier must be from Montenegro.

Legally, Mr Kostunica must offer the premiership to one of Mr Milosevic's former allies, but that will push Mr Djukanovic further towards independence. Mr Kostunica flew to Tito's old city with a deal yesterday: agree to a Socialist Prime Minister and the Serbs will open negotiations on a new, looser federation.

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