Vote of allies crucial to Belgrade

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The Independent Online
PODGORICA - Montenegrins, the last allies of the Serbs, voted yesterday in elections considered vital to the future of the remnants of the Yugoslav federation.

An important issue in the campaign was whether tiny Montenegro should remain with Serbia as the only republics comprising Yugoslavia. Nine candidates challenged the incumbent President, Momir Bulatovic, but only three - Slavko Perovic of the Liberal Party, Novak Kilibarda of the National Party and the independent Serbian nationalist, Branko Kostic - were given serious prospects.

The 400,000 voters were also electing a Montenegrin parliament and members for the Yugoslav parliament. None of the opposition parties expected to take power from the ruling Democratic Socialist Party, which won a two- thirds majority in parliament in elections in 1990. But they hoped to form a genuine opposition bloc. One of the main opposition parties, the Liberal Party, campaigned on a strong separatist platform.

'We want to join Europe in the 21st century,' said Miodrag Vlahovic, head of its international relations department. Mr Vlahovic said Montenegro was associated with Serbia and thus blamed for the war in Bosnia and the oppression of Albanians in Kosovo.

By remaining in the Yugoslav federation, he said, Montenegro was suffering from trade sanctions imposed against Belgrade. 'We are a small nation. We need connections with other nations.' But he added that Montenegro must be careful not to anger Serbia.

The strongly anti-Communist People's Party was also considered a strong contender. It wants to stay within a federal Yugoslavia but considers the ruling Democratic Socialists to be too close to their Communist roots. 'We don't support the ex-Communist party,' said the party's vice-president, Branko Boljevic.

Unlike the Liberals, members of the People's Party regard themselves as Serbs and feel that a close alliance with Belgrade is natural. 'Basically we are the same people, with the same ethnos,' Mr Boljevic said. 'A federal state between Serbs and Montenegrins should exist.'

All opposition parties were suspicious about the outcome of the elections, taking it for granted that the government would cheat. 'You can't speak about free elections here,' said Miodrag Perovic, editor of the opposition weekly, Monitor. There were also fears of reprisals against those who opposed the government.

One woman who said she had just voted 'for democracy' was frightened to give her name. She feared violence in Montenegro. Mr Perovic agreed: 'We are on the verge of a civil war here.'

SARAJEVO - Lord Owen, the European Community peace negotiator, extended his stay in Sarajevo until today, indicating that he hoped to make progress in talks to arrange a ceasefire in Bosnia's war. But military leaders of the warring Serbs and Muslims emerged stony-faced from a meeting aimed at halting the fighting around the Bosnian capital.

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