CEOL - Italy's Mafia obsession aids Milosevic

BRUSSELS, Dec 29, 1999 -- (Reuters) The pro-Western government of the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro is concerned that Italy is recklessly undermining its self-determination battle with President Slobodan Milosevic, Montenegrin officials say.

Government sources speaking to Reuters in Podgorica over the weekend said they fear Italy's exasperation over Montenegrin involvement in mafia-linked crime may be damaging their standing in the West at a time when they most need its understanding.

Western powers have urged Montenegro not to try to secede from Yugoslavia but to join Serbian opposition to Milosevic and work for democracy "from within".

Montenegrin government leaders said that was an impossible task and a mistaken policy which plays into the hands of Milosevic.

They said all 27 deputies of the pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party of Montenegro (SNP) had printed copies of Italian criminal charges against Montenegro's Foreign Minister Branko Perovic on the night of his resignation last week.

"Even Perovic himself didn't have a copy. We are pretty sure the SNP got theirs via Belgrade," said a senior aide to President Milo Djukanovic.

Sources suggested that the details of the case were sent from Italy to Djukanovic's arch rival, Momir Bulatovic, the Belgrade-based federal prime minister of Yugoslavia who lost the Montenegro presidency in hotly contested 1997 elections.

"Bulatovic has no other task in Belgrade than to destabilize Montenegro," the aide said. "Italy has not been very supportive. Not only that but they try to disregard international community support for our government."

Political analyst Sdrjan Darmanovic noted that the charges against Perovic, alleging involvement with the Italian mafia in smuggling, date back seven years to a period when the SNP was in power and Djukanovic was still loyal to Milosevic.

"It's curious that it has taken so long for these charges to come out," he said.

Italian Police In Montenegro

Montenegrin government sources acknowledge that years of sanctions have fuelled the black economy and raised the business of cigarette smuggling to the level of an industry that angers Rome, which is losing millions in tax revenue.

Western diplomatic sources recently confirmed that Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema had voiced impatience with Montenegrin crime syndicates.

The Montenegro government, however, notes that southern Italy has been plagued by the mafia for over 100 years and objects that it cannot wipe out smuggling overnight.

"I can tell you that Italian police are present in this country right now, as a sign of our genuine readiness to cooperate," said a senior government figure speaking on condition of anonymity.

Montenegro leaders are concerned that Belgrade is attempting to blacken their name in the West as part of a strategy of undermining the tiny republic's move to establish its own visa, customs and currency laws independent of Yugoslavia.

They played down the risk of a classic coup d'etat to topple Djukanovic but said pro-Belgrade opposition charges of criminality, incompetence and dirty tricks by the government were intended to foment social unrest and possibly trigger violence at elections due in spring.

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