CEOL - YU PM warns against Montenegro independence vote

PODGORICA, Dec 14, 1999 -- (Reuters) Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic has warned Montenegro against holding a referendum on independence, saying in an interview published on Monday it could lead to a conflict in the coastal republic.

Bulatovic told the Montenegrin daily Vijesti that it would be senseless to hold such a vote, which Montenegro's Western-leaning leadership has threatened unless Belgrade agrees to redefine relations inside the Yugoslav federation.

"Even those who threatened to stage it have given up the idea, not only because their foreign mentors told them to do so," he said. "They told them to give it up knowing that it would only result in starting conflicts in Montenegro."

Bulatovic also heads Montenegro's opposition Socialist People's Party, loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbia and Montenegro are the only two republics left in Yugoslavia since Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia left during its bloody breakup over the last decade.

But the two have been increasingly at odds, with Montenegro openly pushing for economic and political reforms and close ties with the West and Serbia remaining politically isolated.

Montenegro issued a document in August calling for relations within the federation to be redefined to give it a greater autonomy in its economic, defense and foreign policies.

The smaller republic has threatened to hold a referendum on independence if Serbia does not agree to such a change.

In the interview, Bulatovic blamed last week's incident at Podgorica's main airport on the Montenegrin police, saying it had tried to achieve an illegitimate objective by force.

The Yugoslav authorities closed the airport on Wednesday night after tensions erupted between its army and the police, which are controlled by the independence-minded republic.

Tensions later eased and flights resumed on Thursday.

The incident, which the military said had occurred when the police instigated construction work on a hangar on land belonging to the armed forces, prompted warnings from NATO to Milosevic not to interfere in Montenegro.

Bulatovic said the "illegitimate and arrogant behavior" of the republic's police had to be brought to an end.

"The Montenegrin government naively believed it would be supported by NATO and thus benefit from a possible conflict," Bulatovic said.

But, he added, "NATO bombs are not smart enough to differentiate between those supporting (Montenegrin President) Milo Djukanovic and my followers."

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