NATO chief backs election boycott
President Milo Đukanović met with European Union (EU) foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on Thursday. The two men discussed the security situation in Montenegro as well as the independence-minded republic's decision to boycott the Yugoslav federal elections slated for 24 September.
"I have explained to Mr. Solana the reasons for our boycott of the federal elections. We want the EU to understand Montenegro's position in the light of Milošević's constitutional violence and his constant attempts to annul the Montenegrin state," Đukanović told Podgorica media.
"The Belgrade regime constantly provokes Montenegro. We do not want war, but if Milošević continues his violent policy, we are prepared to defend our state," Đukanović continued.
His statements were seen by local analysts as directed not only to NATO—Đukanović, they say, is hoping for a firm NATO guarantee of Montenegrin security in the event of war with Serbia—but also in reaction to "recent federal provocations" including a potential visit to Podgorica by Milošević and the disappearance of former Serbian President and one-time Milošević mentor Ivan Stambolić.
Solana endorsed Montenegro's boycott of the federal elections, saying, "I must emphasize that Europe supports Montenegro and President Đukanović's policy. We support the Montenegrin government's decision to boycott the federal elections."
Meanwhile, Đukanović also met in Dubrovnik with Bob Dole, the former United States Senator and present Chairman of the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP). Dole was in the region to open a new ICMP forensics centre in Sarajevo.
Dole said he, too, understood the decision to boycott the Yugoslav elections and promised to "continue to support democracy in Montenegro."
As President Đukanović went on the offensive internationally, Prime Minister Filip Vujanović struck a more conciliatory tone at home in what at least one Podgorica analyst has termed "a two-pronged strategy" to smooth the way for independence.
As Đukanović was in Dubrovnik on Thursday, Vujanoić oversaw the second meeting in as many weeks between the ruling Montenegrin Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP). In the wake of the meeting, both sides reiterated their commitment to ease tensions in the run-up to the 24 September federal elections.
"The September elections must not be a cause of tensions in Montenegro. As the two biggest parties, we have a duty to ensure that the elections take place in peace," Vujanović said at a post-meeting press conference.
"Lines of communication will remain open, and we will try to explain our differences and avoid tensions," he added.
SNP number-two man Zoran Žižić added that the two parties "agree on the need for elections to take place, and to be free and without harmful consequences for anyone. What is important," he added, "and we agreed on it, is that Montenegrin authorities will not obstruct the elections."
Vujanović said he hopes the Serbian opposition will defeat Milošević because "it would be good for the futures of both Montenegro and Serbia, and for the future of a common state."
Earlier in the week, Vujanović had said that he hoped for a victory by opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica, saying "we are politically oriented to a victory by Kostunica," and adding that he wished "with all my heart" for an opposition victory.
Milošević to visit Montenegro, Kosovo?
Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainović, who is also a senior official in the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia, said at mid-week that President Slobodan Milošević "will go to Kosovo and Montenegro," but did not specify whether the Yugoslav strongman's visit would come before or after the 24 September federal elections.
Pressed by reporters at a press conference on Thursday, Sainović would only add that "President Milošević has planned election campaign activities" for Kosovo and Montenegro, and that the public would be "informed about all his travels in time."
The possibility of a Milošević visit to Kosovo or Montenegro was greeted with predictable denouncements in both regions.
Kostunica: Montenegro's position unclear
Speaking with the Podgorica weekly Monitor, opposition presidential candidate Vojislav Kostunica said it was unclear whether or not Montenegro supported the continued existence of a federal Yugoslav state.
Despite strong pro-independence sentiment in the republic, most polls show at least 37 percent of Montenegrins wish to remain part of federal Yugoslavia.
Kostunica said it was important for Montenegrins "to say what they want. If they don't want federal elections, they can hold a referendum." Should that not be an option, he added with obvious sarcasm, there is always the "third option" of an "uprising or rebellion."
He repeatedly emphasized that the republic's election boycott could only be seen as a protest if Montenegro was also to schedule a referendum on independence. Clearly, he said, local officials "lack the courage" for this option, suggesting it was a sign that pro-independence forces are aware of their lack of support.
Journos protest gag order
The Montenegrin Society of Journalists has lodged an official complaint with the Information Ministry over an alleged decision by Montenegrin authorities to ban media reports on the upcoming federal elections, the daily Vijesti reported Wednesday.
"The decision is an irregular act aimed at limiting the rights of citizens to express their political will. This is a direct attack on freedom of speech," the letter of complaint read in part.
Diplo relations with China, Slovenia?
Montenegrin media was abuzz Monday and Tuesday following revelations that both China and Slovenia will open high-level diplomatic ties with Montenegro.
Slovenia's announcement of the September opening of its Podgorica cultural and information centre was hardly a surprise, given that Slovenia has already used its diplomatic weight to arrange for Montenegrin diplomats to address the United Nations Security Council.
The Slovene centre is to be headed by present Foreign Ministry Under-secretary Stefan Cigoj, who is popular with Montenegrin media and the Vujanović government alike.
Far more surprising, however, was China's announcement on Saturday 26 August, that it will open a consulate in Montenegro.
"We have already assigned a Consul General... to Podgorica and he will soon undertake activities for the opening of the consulate," said Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Guchang after a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Branko Lukovac.
Lukovac told a post-meeting press conference that the move " will be very important for overall relations, regular dialogue and will contribute to our cooperation."
Lukovac accompanied Prime Minister Vujanović on a visit to China this past April.
Given China's status as one of the few international "friends" of the federal government of President Milošević, local and international observers alike took the move as a signal that China is "hedging its bets" in the event that Milošević will eventually fall from power.
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