Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
In the latest escalation of the conflict between the Belgrade and Podgorica, the Yugoslav Navy has ordered the closure of Montenegro's main port in Bar.
This move raises the stakes, striking directly at the economy of Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav federation.
Montenegrin analysts fear that the closure of the port is but the latest example of the creeping coup against their republic which began when Gen. Milorad Obradovic became head of the Yugoslav Army in Montenegro at the beginning of April. They believe that the Yugoslav Army is gradually taking control of all the most important aspects of Montenegrin life.
"If the port is closed for a long time, then we would apply pressure so that it opens again as soon as possible," said Dragisa Burzan, Montenegro's deputy prime minister. He points out that the Yugoslav Army has already closed the port on several occasions, but that on each occasion it was re-opened after a few days.
The Yugoslav Army has already used the port of Bar to launch a surface-to-air missile at NATO war planes, despite the wishes of the Montenegrin authorities who are determined to remain neutral in the conflict.
"A long closure of the commercial port could prove catastrophic both for the citizens and for the economy, and especially for supplying Montenegro with humanitarian aid," said Jusuf Kalamperovic. the republic's Minister for Sea and Transport. The ban applies both to commercial and passenger ships.
According to Kalamperovic, a ship loaded with timber for export is waiting to sail out of the port, and a ship containing raw material for
Montenegro's aluminium-production plant, one of the republic's most important companies with 4,000 employees, is waiting to disembark.
"Unless the port of Bar is opened soon, the KAP [the aluminium-production plant] will halt production," said Mihailo Banjevic, chief executive of the aluminium production plant.
According to Banjevic, a ship that was to transport 1,000 tonnes of aluminium is unable to leave port with the result that the plant is unable to pay its debts to the electricity utility and to the mines.
If the port remains blockaded for a long time, he fears that it will result in closure not only of the aluminium production plant, but also of several more factories dependent on its work.
In addition to the financial losses inflicted directly on the Montenegrin economy, the blockade is having an indirect effect, namely the gradual subjugation of Podgorica to Belgrade. President Milo Djukanovic's government finds its room for manoeuvre more limited by the day.
The Socialist People's Party (SNP), the party of Milosevic loyalists in Montenegro, has published a draft resolution calling on the republic's parliament to condemn the NATO "aggression".
It is also demanding that parliament reaffirms that the Yugoslav Army is the principal armed force in Montenegro, exclusively responsible for all military formations in the republic.
Montenegro is deeply divided not only over the attitude towards the NATO intervention, but also over the future of the Serbian-Montenegrin federation.
The most outspoken critic of Belgrade and the SNP is Novak Kilibarda, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the People's Party. He is being charged by the Yugoslav Army as a "threat to the defensive capacity of the country" for stating that: "NATO cannot be an aggressor, because it is an alliance."
While reserving his support for independence, Kilibarda has called for a change in the relationship between the two remaining Yugoslav republics. "Yugoslavia as a confederation of Serbia and Montenegro would be the best solution, given that this federation has proved to be impractical," he told SKY SAT / MONTENA television.
NATO's first strike against a non-military target - a bridge in the village of Murino in the Plav municipality was destroyed recently, killing four civilians, including two children - has added to Montenegro's internal dilemma. NATO considered the bridge on the river Lim a legitimate target since its destruction cut off a possible supply route of fuel to Kosovo.
"NATO believed that the bridge could be used for the movement of armoured units of the Yugoslav Army to Kosovo. But there are many other ways to stop them elsewhere, and not in the middle of the village", said Deputy Prime Minister Burzan.
Despite the ever increasing tensions between Serbia and Montenegro, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic expressed optimism in the talks with the representatives of the tourist industry in Montenegro that the Kosovo crisis will be solved soon.
"The lords of war and peace in Belgrade must finally understand that this destruction ought to stop," he said.
Ljubinka N. Cagorovic is a journalist in Podgorica.
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