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Montenegro Border Compromise

Serbia and Montenegro have resolved a stormy border dispute, which brought the two republics close to war.
By Milka Tadic

The Montenegrin authorities appear to have bowed to pressure from Belgrade by accepting the presence of Yugoslav Army soldiers along its borders.


It follows months of bitter dispute over control of Montenegro's frontiers, which threatened to trigger a conflict with Serbia.


A joint statement said a border checkpoint with Kosovo near Rozaje will now be jointly patrolled by Yugoslav Army, VJ, and Montenegrin Interior Police, MUP, as part of efforts to halt illegal arms and drugs shipments across the frontier.


The checkpoint agreement, signed by senior officers of the VJ Second Army and the Montenegrin MUP, allowed for the creation of other joint checkpoints.


"The agreement was reached following severe pressure by the VJ," a senior official in the Montenegrin ruling coalition told IWPR. "The generals were accusing us of tolerating the transit of arms, that allegedly go to the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] and its rebels in the vicinity of Presevo through Montenegro. The representatives from the VJ threatened to block the crossing near Rozaje. We had to back down in face of such accusations and allow the control of goods going towards Kosovo."


The official said behind-the-scenes negotiations have been ongoing for weeks between the VJ and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's coalition government.


The VJ set up an army checkpoint on the Montenegrin-Albanian border at the end of January, in violation of the Yugoslav constitution. VJ troops then illegally deployed along the republic's frontier with Bosnia in early March (See Tribunal Update No 122 - Serbia Tightens Montenegrin Noose).


Montenegro interpreted the moves as a clear show of force by Belgrade, escalating the long-running feud between the two republics. For some years Montenegro has increasingly sought to distance herself from Belgrade, taking over responsibility for foreign relations, the economy and even the republic's currency.


Hence last week's compromise accepting the presence of VJ troops has come as a great surprise to the Montenegrin public.


Control of the Kosovo border crossing points is particularly important to the Montenegrin authorities. The transit of goods through Montenegro into Kosovo has generated millions of German marks for the Podgrocia authorities since the arrival of KFOR in the province.


Within two days of the joint checkpoint being set up, traffic towards Kosovo was significantly down. Some fear the VJ presence will continue to cut the volume of goods crossing the border, reducing Montenegrin government.


Despite the obvious concessions made to the Yugoslav military, representatives from parties in the ruling coalition parties, the Democratic Party of Socialists and People's Party, are trying to portray the agreement as a victory for the Djukanovic government.


"If this reduces the tension, there is no reason to conduct an analysis now as to who made concessions to whom," said Dragan Soc, Montenegro's justice minister and leader of the People's Party.


The Social Democratic Party, the third member of the ruling coalition, has, however, expressed reservations about the agreement.


"The Belgrade regime immediately took our goodwill as a sign of weakness," said Ratko Krivokapic of the SDP. "The army's representatives have already demanded the creation of new checkpoints."


That part of the media under the control of Milosevic has remained silent over the agreement. Milosevic failed to inform his political cronies in Montenegro, the Socialist People's Party, SNP, about the negotiations between the VJ and the Montenegrin MUP.


The deputy leader of the SNP, Pedrag Bulatovic, accused Djukanovic throughout the negotiations of waging a propaganda war against the VJ to stoke up tension and destabilise Montenegro.


Djukanovic's fierce rival, Momir Bulatovic, the federal prime minister and leader of the SNP, claimed the negotiations were secret. On March 24, Bulatovic said the Montenegrin police minister visited Belgrade recently and talked to colleagues in the federal and Serbian government.


The agreement no doubt points to Djukanovic's eagerness to buy time and gain some concessions from VJ generals. In his game with Milosevic, the Montenegrin president has so far managed to avoid outright conflict. But, despite negotiating and compromising, he is losing elsewhere on all fronts. Slowly but surely the Yugoslav Army is taking over control of Montenegro's borders.


Milka Tadic is a regular IWPR contributor


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