Between The Bombs And Belgrade

Montenegro has been on the receiving end of NATO's air strikes and verbal assaults from Belgrade. The fear is that the attacks from within will also become violent.

Between The Bombs And Belgrade

Montenegro has been on the receiving end of NATO's air strikes and verbal assaults from Belgrade. The fear is that the attacks from within will also become violent.

After bombing Montenegro for the first six days of its offensive, NATO let up on Tuesday and spared the population of Serbia's junior partner in the rump Yugoslav federation a seventh night of terror. However, the war of words between Belgrade and Podgorica, which has escalated steadily since the beginning of the air strikes, shows no signs of abating.

Having charted a pro-Western course since his 1997 election, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic had hoped that his tiny republic of 630,000 would escape the NATO bombardment.

The air strikes, which began on 24 March, came as a nasty shock both to Montenegro's government and its population, as installations in the republic were targeted along with those in Serbia.

So confident were Montenegrins that they would be spared bombardment that a Montenegro Airlines passenger jet set off from Belgrade to Podgorica as the NATO offensive got under way. The plane narrowly avoided disaster landing amid a shower of bombs at Podgorica airport unaided, after the air-traffic controllers had fled their posts.

NATO's principal targets in Montenegro have been the military airport in Golubovci near Podgorica, the army barracks in Danilovgrad, where munitions and military hardware withdrawn from Croatia in 1991 is believed to have been stored, and the many radar sites scattered on the hills overlooking the coast. The army barracks took a direct hit on the first night, but had been evacuated the day before.

Although the Yugoslav military has not revealed details of the damage inflicted, it appears that most of the radar were either destroyed or severely damaged in the first attack, since already on the second night NATO war planes flew over Montenegro on their way to targets in Serbia. In total, one soldier has been killed, five wounded and one woman has suffered severe injuries in the offensive.

The verbal sparring between Belgrade and Montenegro, was, by contrast, expected. In an address to the nation immediately after the first strike, Djukanovic urged both Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and NATO to back down in the interests of a peaceful solution to the crisis. He also called on Montenegrins to bury their differences in order to avoid bloodshed. The Belgrade press responded by labelling Djukanovic "the biggest traitor in Montenegro's history".

Despite intense pressure, Djukanovic remains defiant and has refused to follow Belgrade's lead in declaring a state of emergency, expelling foreign journalists and breaking diplomatic relations with the United States, Britain, France and Germany. In a statement, the Montenegrin government declared: "The policy of isolation and conflict with the international community is not the future of our country and our people."

Fearing a military crackdown, the Montenegrin government has ordered the police to take over responsibility for the republic's security. Officers in combat fatigues have deployed around key buildings as well as on the access roads to the most important state institutions. Sources in the Interior Ministry report that the Yugoslav Army is bringing in reservists and behaving in an increasingly confrontational manner, though it has not deployed units in any town.

In order to help Montenegrin males avoid the draft, the government has issued a compulsory work order. The Yugoslav Army has responded by forming military courts to prosecute deserters. And the republic's justice minister has challenged the military to file suit against him first, since he has no intention of answering his call-up papers.

Montenegro's republican leadership is also defying a decision of the federal government in Belgrade to place monetary policy throughout the country under the national bank of Yugoslavia. It fears that this is a measure designed to replace directors in Montenegro's banks and attempt to finance the war by printing money. In a move reminiscent of Slovenia in 1991, Montenegro is believed to have printed up a coupon currency which it might introduce into circulation in the event of hyper-inflation in Serbia.

After a three-day session, all parties in the Montenegrin parliament agreed a compromise resolution appealing for calm and an end to inter-party squabbling. However, the truce lasted all of one day as the respective camps interpreted the document in their own fashion. Milosevic's allies in the Montenegrin opposition insist the resolution allows for undisturbed movements by the Yugoslav Army in Montenegro. Djukanovic's ruling coalition contends the resolution provides for business as usual--that is, continuing the strong control of republic affairs by the Podgorica administration.

Milosevic loyalists have begun staging rallies in towns throughout Montenegro to protest what they view as the government's treachery. In Podgorica itself daily demonstrations in front of the city's now vacant US information centre attract up to 5,000 protesters. Meanwhile, some 25,000 ethnic Albanian refugees have fled into the republic and the government is appealing for Western aid to meet their needs.

Slajovljub Scekic is deputy editor of the independent Montenegrin weekly Vijesti.

Serbia, Croatia
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