Yugoslav forces seize airport as screw tightens on Montenegro

YUGOSLAVIA APPEARED to be teetering last night on the edge of yet another nightmarish war - the fifth that Slobodan Milosevic has unleashed, and potentially the bloodiest of all.

Armed forces loyal to Mr Milosevic seized the airport in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, and found themselves in a stand-off with police loyal to the democratic government of the Montenegrin leader, Milo Djukanovic. The airport was closed for commercial flights "on safety grounds". The airport director, Drago Milanovic, said: "I expect this to be a temporary measure." But even if it is - and many would doubt it - it is undoubtedly the most worrying sign of a potential conflict that has been brewing for many months. Milka Tadic, a Montenegrin journalist, told The Independent. "All the signs are very bad. Probably they are preparing something. Not in the next few days but soon."

Theoretically, this could be yet another bluff followed by another counter- bluff, a show of strength where both sides hope the other will blink first.

But it seems almost inconceivable that either side will back down entirely. Every time that President Milosevic has tried to tighten the screw on Montenegro in the past year the effect has been the opposite: pressure for complete independence from Serbia has steadily grown, together with the tension that this inevitably brings.

Montenegro recently declared the mark as legal tender in the republic, in an effort to separate the Montenegrin economy from the black hole that is the Serb economy. Belgrade was furious at the Montenegrin move. Mr Milosevic, who has constantly declared his desire to keep the Yugoslav federation intact, has repeatedly taken measures which have accelerated the disintegration of Yugoslavia.