Montenegro plans independence vote


PODGORICA, Yugoslavia (AP) -- Montenegro will hold a referendum next year to determine whether it will stay part of Yugoslavia together with much larger Serbia, a top official said Thursday.

Such a move is sure to increase tensions with the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who opposes Montenegrin secession.

Miodrag Vukovic, an advisor to the pro-Western president Milo Djukanovic, declared defining relations with Serbia -- MIlosevic's power base -- was a top priority for the Montenegrin government in the year 2000.

"We should not set deadlines ... but this very important issue will be definitely resolved next year," Vukovic said.

Montenegro's reformist leadership has been taking steps toward independence from Yugoslavia, which is internationally isolated because of its role in fomenting Balkan wars accompanying the breakup of what used to be a Yugoslav federation of six republics. Yugoslavia now consists only of Serbia and Montenegro.

There are fears of another Balkan war if Montenegro declares independence.

Montenegro's residents are deeply divided in their support for the reformist leadership or a pro-Serb faction which strongly objects the idea of an independent Montenegro.

Vukovic said the decision on Montenegro's future lies in the hands of its citizens. But, he added, "one of the priorities of the Montenegrin state policy is to define, definitely and finally, relations with Serbia."

Montenegro has drafted a proposal for redefining relations in Yugoslavia and offered it to Serbia to review. But there has been no agreement, and Yugoslavia's premier on Wednesday said the proposal was "nonsense."

Earlier this month clashes nearly erupted when the pro-Milosevic Yugoslav army -- which is also stationed in Montenegro -- briefly seized control of the main airport in the republic, saying it needed to prevent the police, loyal to Djukanovic, from usurping its property.

Milosevic's supporters in Montenegro have announced a gathering to celebrate the Orthodox Christian New Year on Jan. 13, creating fears of violence.

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