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Murder Stokes Yugoslav Tensions

The latest assassination in Belgrade is being linked to Montenegro's bid to leave the Yugoslav fold.
By Milka Tadic

The Yugsolav defense minister, Pavle Bulatovic, assassinated in Belgrade earlier this week, was a leading Montenegrin politician who fiercely opposed the tiny republic's drive towards independence.


In the wake of the killing, there are concerns that Belgrade may accuse Montenegro of responsibility for the crime and attempt to destabilise its troublesome neighbour.


Bulatovic was one of the most prominent and hawkish members of the opposition, pro-Milosevic, Peoples'Party. He also backed Montenegrin clans loyal to Serbia which have threatened to organise an uprising if the republic opts for independence.


It is said that Bulatovic also helped to organise a paramilitary battalion within the Yugsolav Army in Montenegro, comprising Peoples' Party members, whom Milosevic could use to spark unrest.


When the Kosovo crisis escalated last year, Bulatovic called on the Montenegrins to go to war in defence of "holy Serbian land." He called Podgorica's neutrality in the Serbian-Albanian conflict "the greatest Montenegrin shame" and was often accused of whipping up tensions between the Federal Army and the Podgorica authorities.


Bulatovic's association with Milosevic and his regime goes back a long way. He entered the political fray just over ten years ago, exploiting the wave of Serbian nationalism that swept the republic at the time.


A quiet assistant lecturer at the Economics Faculty in Podgorica and one of the editors of the youth magazine Univerzitetska Rijec ("University word"), Bulatovic played a leading role in protests in January 1989 which succeeded in overthrowing the Montenegro's communist leadership.


On the eve of the break-up of Yugoslavia, Bulatovic was put in charge of the Montenegrin police force, which at the time was notorious for arresting members of the opposition and ethnic minorities and persecuting dissidents. In the first year of the Yugoslav conflict, Bulatovic's police also organised paramilitary formations loyal to Milosevic and his Montenegrin cronies.


When Serbia and Montenegro created the "new Yugoslavia" in 1992, Bulatovic became its first federal minister of police and subsequently defence minister. The most recent appointment was denounced by the president of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic.


The assassination of Bulatovic is the first of a series of political killings in Belgrade directly linked with Montenegro. Podgorica now fears that the Serbian leadership may directly implicate it in the murder.


There are good grounds for their fears. Belgrade was quick to blame the Montenegrin mafia for the killing last month of Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan, who had long been a Milosevic ally.


"When Raznatovic was killed the Federal Information Minister Goran Matic accused the mafia of the murder," said Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda. "I fear that someone in Serbia might use the murder of Bulatovic to create unrest in Montenegro as well."


Milka Tadic, editor of Monitor in Podgorica, is a regular contributor to IWPR.