China to open consulate in embattled Montenegro

PODGORICA, Aug 27, 2000 -- (Reuters) China said on Saturday it would open a consulate in the rebel Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, in what some observers said was a diplomatic blow for Belgrade.

"We have already assigned a general consul of the People's Republic of China to Podgorica and he will soon start activities for the opening of the consulate," visiting Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Guchang said after meeting Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac.

Lukovac told a joint news conference that the consulate "will be very important for overall relations, regular dialogue and will contribute to our cooperation".

Liu is on an official visit to Yugoslavia, which has already taken him to Belgrade. Lukovac and Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic visited China last April.

China is one of the very few countries to maintain close links with the Yugoslav government of President Slobodan Milosevic, whom a United Nations war crimes tribunal has indicted for alleged war crimes against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Montenegro's pro-Western President Milo Djukanovic has edged his republic away from Belgrade and threatened to secede unless the terms of his tiny coastal republic's federation with Serbia are redefined.

Braca Grubacic, editor of the independent English-language Belgrade newsletter VIP, described Liu's visit to Montenegro as a "diplomatic blow to the Belgrade regime".

"For the authorities in Belgrade this (the consulate), in the sense of propaganda, will also be a blow since they pretend to present China as their exclusive friend," Grubacic told Reuters.


State media in Serbia reported on Liu's visit to Belgrade and his meeting with Milosevic but made no reference to his trip to Podgorica.

Pro-government daily Politika said on Saturday Milosevic and Liu had confirmed the two countries were "firmly committed to the policy of peace and are consistently supporting equal relations amongst countries and peoples".

Lukovac told reporters he had informed Liu about "pressures and violence exercised against Montenegro" from Belgrade and about policies that had led to the break-up of former Yugoslavia."

Liu said China would not interfere with internal issues of other countries including those in the Balkans. "The essential policy of China in this region is to respect peoples' choice," he told reporters.

The visit came a week after Montenegrin police arrested two Yugoslav soldiers involved in a plot to smuggle 25 Chinese illegal immigrants to Italy.

Army units in Montenegro controlled by Milosevic and police loyal to Djukanovic have over the past few weeks been involved in a number of smuggling incidents.

"Chinese government strongly opposes illegal transport of people. We think that smuggling of people represents a general phenomenon at the international level because of good payments it can secure," Liu told reporters.

Original article