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Belgrade's Paramilitaries Set Up Base In Montenegro

Former Yugoslav Army chief Momcilo Perisic says squads of well-paid, battle-hardened troops are setting up base in Montenegro - loyal only to Belgrade and promising only trouble for the tiny republic.
By Milka Tadic

A paramilitary group owing allegiance only to Belgrade has been created from within the ranks of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) in Montenegro, according to General Momcilo Perisic, former chief of the VJ headquarters and now a leading opponent of President Slobodan Milosevic.


The Democratic Party of Socialists, headed by Montenegrin President, Milo Djukanovic, was the first to react. It issued a statement alleging that Federal Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, who leads the republic's pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party (SNP), is hoping to "ignite conflict in Montenegro".


The Democratic Socialists argue the general's warning is to be taken seriously, maintaining: "the only thing in which Milosevic's regime has never cheated its citizens is war. Whenever they said that there would be a war, there was a war."


The reports of paramilitary formations that are being created under the auspices of the Yugoslav Army are not new to Montenegro. Immediately after the NATO bombing, Djukanovic spoke of Milosevic's alleged intention to form a special unit of the federal police in Montenegro, which would be controlled from Belgrade.


The members of that special battalion have allegedly been recruited among the fiercest followers of the Yugoslav President in Montenegro. Many of them volunteered to join the Second Army during the NATO bombing, the representatives of the ruling coalition have pointed out.


According to one VJ officer, who wanted to remain anonymous, the special battalion has already been formed. Some three hundred members of this special formation are already being trained at the army barracks in Podgorica. Others are dispersed in other towns. Supposedly over one thousand strong, battalion members were selected on the basis of their political affiliation. Soldiers are provided decent salaries, and were granted military ranks immediately.


The formation of a Praetorian Guard to support Slobodan Milosevic in Montenegro can be interpreted as his lack of trust in the members of the regular units of the VJ, who are stationed in the smaller of the two republics that now comprise Yugoslavia.


Our source in the VJ claims that the army in Montenegro is deeply divided and that there are many opponents of the Yugoslav President in its ranks.


"The command cadre of the Second Army, headed by General Obradovic, is blindly following all orders by Milosevic. However, many officers are disappointed, especially after the loss of Kosovo. A significant section of the army here secretly supports the policies of Djukanovic. In case of the conflict, they will side with him," the source maintained.


Novak Kilibarda, Deputy Prime Minister in the Montenegrin Government, has also indirectly spoken about the divisions in the Second Army. "I distinguish between the paramilitary units and the Yugoslav Army. One should trust the army--especially the younger, officer cadre. Kilibarda, who is responsible for the Police Ministry, has optimistically stated that the "Montenegrin security forces are prepared to protect the citizens and the state from Milosevic's paramilitary legions, that sowed death in all those territories where they appeared."


Alongside the warnings that Milosevic is truly preparing for a new battle, a fierce campaign against the Montenegrin leadership is underway in the Serbian media.


The Serbian Radical Party held a number of rallies over the weekend in the north of Montenegro, where President Djukanovic was accused of treason and cooperation with NATO.


Bulatovic's SNP is also rather active. In the north too, Bulatovic headed a rally of his supporters in Mojkovac, on Sunday, which he used to attack the Montenegrin police.


"Over 2,500 policemen in the Montenegrin MUP are not Montenegrin citizens," he said. "A number of them are from Republika Srpska, and, unfortunately, most are from the Muslim and Croat Federation." Bulatovic went on to allege that the Montenegrin MUP is secretly arming itself, buying arms in the Bosnian towns of Zenica and Ljubusko.


The ruling coalition in Montenegro instantly denied these allegations, saying the Federal Prime Minister is deliberately trying to discredit and weaken the police in the republic, so that Montenegro would end up an easy target.


"Momir Bulatovic is not hiding his intentions. He stated in Mojkovac that it would be easy for him to finish [the business] with the Montenegrin Government and President Djukanovic, but he fears the international community's reaction to the fifth war that Milosevic and his yes-men would start in this decade," Andrija Perisic, a DPS official, has said.


The fear that what thus far have been only the verbal encounters of two opposed blocks in Montenegro might be an introduction into a much more serious conflict, has been fuelled by the incidents that took place in Niksic and in Cetinje these days.


A senior army officer was physically assaulted by unknown attacker in Niksic. He suffered serious bodily injuries and was transferred for treatment to the military hospital in Belgrade.


The search for the perpetrator is still underway. The army has issued a sharp statement warning that the attack on its member "could have serious implications."


A few days after this incident, the members of the Serbian Orthodox Church have clashed with the followers of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church in the vicinity of the old Montenegrin capital, Cetinje.


One Serbian priest attacked the Montenegrin bishop Mihailo. After that, the genuine state of siege lasted for several hours in Cetinje. The followers of the Montenegrin Church have gathered and protested in front of the town assembly. They subsequently attacked the Serbian Orthodox priest, who suffered minor injuries. Witnesses claim that only a strong Montenegrin police force prevented a wider-scale conflict.


The Serbian Bishopric here has been facing serious problems recently. It is being abandoned by the faithful and by the priests, who are crossing over to the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. The Church disputes are only a part of general Montenegrin division.


As Montenegro comes ever closer to having to choose between the path towards independence or the path of a stronger alliance with Serbia, so the tension mounts ever higher. For sure, the fuse has been lit, but whether it will result in an explosion will be decided in Belgrade, not Podgorica.


Milka Tadic is editor of Monitor in Podgorica.


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