Creeping Coup In Montenegro

Podgorica is distancing itself further from Belgrade--and from the Yugoslav Army, which it feels poses a direct threat.

Creeping Coup In Montenegro

Podgorica is distancing itself further from Belgrade--and from the Yugoslav Army, which it feels poses a direct threat.

Friday, 23 April, 1999

The Yugoslav Army is increasing the pressure on Montenegro's civilian authorities, putting at risk the republic's attempts to remain neutral in the war between Belgrade and NATO. Some Montenegrin observers describe as a "creeping coup".

Tension between Podgorica and the Yugoslav Army has grown steadily since the beginning of the month when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic installed Gen. Milorad Obradovic at the head of the Yugoslav Army in Montenegro, replacing Gen. Radoslav Martinovic.

Though both men are Montenegrins, the move was significant since General Obradovic is viewed as a Milosevic loyalist and Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic was not consulted about the change.

Since his appointment, Obradovic has charted a collision course with the Montenegrin authorities, stepping up mobilisation throughout the republic and launching a media offensive. As a result, many Montenegrin observers feel a coup is already taking place.

"The army is abusing its position to settle scores with the Montenegrin government," said Dragan Soc, Montenegro's justice minister, who has three times refused to respond to call-up papers.

"They have no need for extra soldiers, since they don't even have the means to keep them in the army. They are just throwing their weight around to demonstrate their influence and power," he said.

Military press gangs are mobilising young men indiscriminately in the streets, military courts have begun prosecuting draft dodgers, and the Yugoslav Army has stepped up its public criticism of key politicians and other leading figures in Montenegrin society.

One target of the Yugoslav army's wrath is Novak Kilibarda, Montenegro's deputy prime minister, whom it accuses of "intending to weaken the country's defences".

On the eve of NATO's bombing campaign, Killibarda said that NATO could not be an aggressor because it was an alliance. Moreover, in the event of war, Montenegro would remain neutral, declare independence from Serbia and prevent the Yugoslav Army in Montenegro from activating its defences.

Obradovic has set up his own television station in a building belonging to the Yugoslav Army with equipment brought from Belgrade. The output of this station is very similar to that of Serbian television, whose headquarters in Belgrade were targeted Thursday night by NATO bombing. NATO is systematically referred to as "fascists" or "aggressors".

The terminology used on the military station contrasts with that of Montenegrin television, which the Yugoslav Army accuses of bias. The Yugoslav Army is also impeding the work of foreign journalists, whom the Montenegrin government allows to operate freely. The army has confiscated equipment and detained reporters.

"The Yugoslav Army is intimidating foreign journalists to show them the impotence of the government and the absence of security guarantees. They hope that the journalists will go away so that they can stage a coup in Montenegro," asserts Soc.

A series of meetings between Obradovic and Montenegro's prime minister, president and its parliament's speaker have failed to ease tensions.

Geneneral Obradovic, nevertheless, succeeded in pressurising Montenegrin television into broadcasting every night a 30-minute programme entitled "Defending the Homeland", a move which has upset Montenegro's independent media.

"The Yugoslav Army's aim in Montenegro is not to defend the homeland from aggressors, as they say, but to silence Milosevic's opposition in Montenegro, that is the government and independent media," the independent daily newspaper Vijesti said in an editorial.

A day later, military police entered the newspaper's offices and threatened to "stop this view being printed" in the future.

"The Yugoslav army is supposed to be the army of Serbia and Montenegro, but instead it's Milosevic's tool to impose his political views on Montenegro," said Miodrag Perovic, the founder and publisher of the weekly magazine MONITOR.

He urges the Montenegrin government to seize control of army barracks and units in their republic. "This could be achieved by forming a Republican Ministry of Defence and the republican parliament voting to give Montenegro's prime minister complete control of the army in his jurisdiction," Perovic says.

Tension soared most recently when the Yugoslav Army fired a surface-to-air missile at a NATO plane from a naval ship anchored in the port of Bar. Petrasin Kasalica, director of the port, immediately protested the "abuse of the port's hospitality" to the Yugoslav Army.

"If you wish to defend the homeland from NATO planes, then I advise you to move your ships from the port," he said. "If your provocation is returned and NATO planes start bombing, then our future will be doomed and everything that we have now will be destroyed."

Zeljko Ivanovic is founder and director of Vijesti, the only independent daily newspaper in Montenegro.

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