The International Crisis Group (ICG) today releases a report examining the prospects of a new Balkan conflict flaring in Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The ICG report, entitled Montenegro: in the Shadow of the Volcano, summarises progress made by Montenegro under reform-minded President Milo Djukanovic in distancing itself from the policies implemented by its federal partner Serbia. It highlights the fragility of the present situation, in view of the poor economic environment, the closure of the Serbia/Montenegro border and sharp divisions within Montenegrin public opinion regarding the republic's future status. Recent moves by Belgrade - including the construction of transmitters at Yugoslav army bases in Montenegro and an increase in the number of Yugoslav troops in the republic - have added to fears that Yugoslav President Milosevic may be planning to overthrow the Montenegrin government, or else stoke internal conflict in the republic.
Each of the policy options facing the Montenegrin Government is unappealing and carries heavy risks. The first - holding a referendum on independence - threatens to radicalise a population still peacefully divided over the issue, and would offer maximum provocation to Belgrade. The second - maintaining the status quo - offers a better chance of avoiding open confrontation with Belgrade, but leaves Montenegro in a limbo, deprived of much-needed foreign aid and hostage to perceptions of coming conflict. The third - seeking some kind of rapprochement with Belgrade - is out of the question as long as Milosevic remains in power.
The report warns of the likelihood of Montenegro slipping towards war unless international donors and NATO members take immediate and concrete steps to support the government in Montenegro and deter intervention by Belgrade. These steps should include greater economic support for the Montenegrin government (reducing the perceived advantages of independence); an increased international presence in the republic (raising the stakes for any would-be attacker); and a stronger commitment to Montenegro's security, backed by a formal authorisation to NATO to commence military planning and the appropriate movement of forces.
Unless an effective deterrent strategy is rapidly developed and applied, the international community will again cede the initiative to Milosevic, and could yet again in the Balkans find itself reacting, after the event, to killing and destruction that could have been prevented.
For further information, contact Sascha Pichler at ICG Brussels, tel: +32 2 502 90 38, email: sascha=5Fpichler@compuserve.com; or Jim Hooper at ICG Washington DC, tel: +1 202 408 80 12.
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