Vote tests Milosevic support in Montenegro

Jonathan Steele

Friday June 9 2000

Montenegro's fiercely anti-Milosevic government faces a crucial test on Sunday when voters go to the polls in the capital city, Podgorica, and the coastal town of Herceg Novi.

Though only local elections, they are the first in the small republic since Nato's air strikes sharpened the conflict between President Milo Djukanovic and the government in Belgrade.

Opinion polls show a gradual increase in support for inde pendence and although Sunday's voters also face local issues, their decision will be the best barometer of the mood short of a referendum.

The main opposition party, the SNP, has joined forces with the JUL movement run by Mr Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, as well as the extreme right Radical party of Vojislav Seselj. It is calling its candidates the "Yugoslav coalition" in the hope that voters will have tired of Mr Djukanovic's pro-western line.

Mr Djukanovic, who has been widely courted by the US and the EU, barely recognises the Yugoslav Federation, which links Montenegro with Serbia.

Last week his security adviser, Goran Zugic, was gunned down in Podgorica by an unknown assailant. This week, the Yugoslav information minister, Goran Matic, said the murder was stage-managed by the CIA to blame Mr Milosevic. "The CIA stands behind this terrorist act," Mr Matic said. "Zugic was just a figure on [the] CIA's chess table."

Mr Djukanovic shelved a plan to hold a referendum on secession this autumn under US pressure not to provoke Belgrade. But he is unhappy with the latest advice from the west that he should take part in the elections to the federal Yugoslav parliament which Mr Milosevic has announced.

Miodrag Vukovic, the president's legal adviser, said: "The federal elections are just another of Milosevic's manipulations. If we reject them, he will accuse us of being separatists. If we take part, we will be repudiating all our previous statements."

But Mr Djukanovic is also being challenged by those who want independence now.

Zarko Rakcevic, who leads the opposition Social Democratic party, told the Guardian: "We cannot accept Montenegro being an instrument of western pressure on Milosevic.

"As long as you have Montenegro in the federation, the idea of [a] 'Greater Serbia' survives. Without Montenegro, they must start on the road of de-Nazification."

Original article