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March 11, 2000
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 429
Interview: Filip Vujanovic, Prime Minister in the Government of Montenegro

Dangerously Politicized Army

by Velizar Brajovic

In VREME interview, Filip Vujanovic, Prime Minister of the Government of Montenegro, answered some very pressing questions (relations with the army, end to exchange of goods...), as well as some questions to which the public has been expecting an answer for some time (redefinition of the relations within the Federation, the issue of Prevlaka, cigarette trade...)

VREME:  How do you see the latest stop to the exchange of goods between Montenegro and Serbia?

VUJANOVIC:  Belgrade has been continuously trying to destabilize Montenegro and one of the ways it has done so is through economic blockades which Montenegro has been facing for over two years now with varying degrees of intensity.  The latest measures are the most drastic form of economic blockade being applied against Montenegro, given that a very brutal blockade of goods exchange is preventing an exchange of goods between Serbia and Montenegro.  It is certain that this blockade will result in long term damage for the Serbian economy, while we are forced into securing alternative suppliers of food products and to ensure the normal operations of the economy in general.
Of course, I think that all economic destruction is senseless.  It is especially senseless within a state which has a unified market.  We will not take retaliatory measures.  We will behave responsibly both with our economy and our population.

VREME:  The alternative suppliers you mentioned get their good to Montenegro across two border crossing thanks to an open agreement between Podgorica and Zagreb and Tirana.  From time to time a warning is issued to the effect that border crossings are the responsibility of the federal state and that Belgrade can close those border crossings.  What will happen if this occurres?

VUJANOVIC:  We opened the border crossings in Debeli Brijeg, toward Croatia, and in Bozaj, toward Albania, with direct communication with their governments because it was clear that Belgrade's intention is to close off those border crossings and to isolate Montenegro from Croatia and Albanian in this way.  Right from its constituting, it was clear that the new Federal Government wants to keep Montenegro isolated from Croatia, with the intention of getting a better negotiation position for Prevlaka and an explanation that Croatia loses more with the closing of the border toward Montenegro, than does Montenegro itself.  In this case we followed a different logic, thinking that we should build good relations with Croatia and once that is accomplished, only then to resolve the issue of Prevlaka as good neighbors.  When it was clear that the committee responsible for making decisions regarding Prevlaka wants to decide on Prevlaka in the above stated way, we decided to open the border with Croatia and it has been operating for some time already, to the mutual advantage of the economies and the citizens of Croatia and Montenegro.

By contrast with the border toward Albania, we though it important to secure good communication and economic exchange with Albania and to permit citizens from Albania and Montenegro to cooperate well.  Finally, with the existence of a border crossing, various smuggling routs would be cut off which naturally result with a closed border.  A border crossing should facilitate control over the flow of goods and people across that border.

VREME:  Still, after the opening of the Bozaj border crossing, the Army reacted and threatened to close off that border crossing.  You had talks with the Commander of the Second Army regarding this matter.  How did those negotiations take place and what was negotiated?

VUJANOVIC:  We had a very civilized discussion in which we suggested the motives for the opening of the border crossing, the sum of which I already answered in the previous question.  After this discussion I think that all the motives for opening the border were explained.

The Army put a ramp in that location and they carry out monitoring over the vehicles and people that cross the border.  I think that this is control which does not inhibit an open border, while it should be understood that the monitoring is carried out in a way that does not slow down communication with Albania.

VREME:  There has been a lot of talk in recent days on raising the battle readiness of the Yugoslav Army in Montenegro.  What are the relations between the Government of Montenegro and the Yugoslav Army in Montenegro at this time?

VUJANOVIC:  We have contacts in which we want to explain all disagreements and to avoid all tensions, with the main interest being to develop peace and the economy in Montenegro.  We will contact the army and explain all points that might be cause for disagreement in order to ensure good relations between the Yugoslav Army and to minimize tensions.

VREME:  How realistic are the claims that the Army could carry out interventions in Montenegro?

VUJANOVIC:  The forming of the Seventh Battalion of the Military Police is cause for concern, for it is clearly a formation which does not fit into any regular Army formation with regard to its training and recruitment.  I agree with all opinions that indicate this to be a formation with paramilitary elements within the Army itself.  Recruiting in this formation is based on party allegiance, with the involvement of the given political party's activists in the recruiting process.  This formation is trained in activities that are not part of regular military police duties.  It is clear that the command of this formation is very close to high party officials who are recruiting this army, and it is also clear that the number of members of this formation are very uncharacteristic for a military police unit.

Therefore, this is a formation which has a paramilitary character and which is subject to very easy abuse on the basis of party policy in situations in the activation of this formation could result in incidents in Montenegro.  In all our discussions with the Yugoslav Army we noted the dangers of this and demanded that the duties of this formation be defined precisely, that the manner in which recruiting is carried out also be clearly defined along with the command relationship this formation holds in relation to the Military Police.  We also expressed our protest and disagreement with the existence of a formation whose function is clearly outside of that of the Military Police.

VREME:  Was there any discussion with Belgrade regarding the blockade of goods against Montenegro and the opening of the Bozaj border crossing.

VUJANOVIC:  No!  We did not have any official contacts regarding these matters.  All communication went through the Second Army of the Yugoslav Army and its command, with the explanation of our motives, which we believe the Army understands.

VREME:  Some people say that your government's platform on the redefinition of relations between Montenegro and Serbia is mere ink on paper.  How true is this and what are the prospects of continuing negotiations?

VUJANOVIC:  That all depends on the Serbian government.  In the beginning of August of last year we sent our platform with the intention of negotiating new relations in our federation, relations which would ensure complete statehood, national equality and complete equality between all citizens.  This was an offer which did not have the character of an ultimatum either in its content or in any deadlines it set.  It did not get a real response from the government in Serbia, while the Serbian opposition supports it for practical purposes.  We are actively waiting for negotiations with Serbia because we transferred a part of the economic package to Montenegro itself, both in terms of fiscal sovereignty, foreign trade, excise duty sovereignty, and now even in monetary sovereignty.  At that same time, we made a new conditions for acquiring citizenship and developed a diplomacy that is effective.  I think that Montenegro has shown that it is putting into practice this platform, and how Serbia will relate to it depends on what its relation toward the future of our federation will be.  In the event that they consider responsibly the future of that federation and they want it to survive, I believe that Serbia will enter into negotiations with Montenegro.  If they do not demonstrate any will for this, Montenegro will be forced to seek an independent state through a referendum.

VREME:  That that mean that the citizens of Montenegro could soon be offered to decide on the legal and state status of Montenegro in a referendum?

VUJANOVIC:  Well, we are in no hurry to go into a referendum.  We have time.  In an active approach during this waiting it has become clear that Montenegro can secure responsible economic policies in Montenegro by resorting to instruments of economic policies, while it is capable of maintaining its political dignity in its political relations.  I think that Serbia should be in a greater hurry to negotiate with us, than that we should hurry to negotiate with Serbia.  The international community recognized such policy in the positive example Montenegro has shown. That community supports our policies, valuing the political and economic reforms in Montenegro and our ambition for integration into the international community.

VREME:  Representatives of the international community also stress that there is no hurry in holding a referendum.  Sometimes they even do so in a dramatic way.  Can you tell us how they justify such warnings, that is to say, do you expect that a change of government in Serbia could result in changes in conditions for a calmer resolution of the Yugoslav crisis?

VUJANOVIC:  The international community has very justified fear that the referendum could imply an increase in tension and could result in a situation of conflict in Montenegro.  They do not with to draft the future of Montenegro because they understand that this is the right of the citizens of Montenegro.  However, they point to the danger, to the need for patient state policies, which is precisely the attitude of the Montenegrin Government toward the issue of the future of Montenegro.  Therefore, I could say that there is complete agreement between the approaches of the international community and the Montenegrin Government.  A patient and careful policy should be carried out.  We are behaving precisely this way.

VREME:  Recently the minister of economics and finance in the European Union refused to approve loans for development to Montenegro, justifying this with the fact that Montenegro does not have the status of an internationally recognized state.  Montenegro got a loan in goods from Germany very recently, and a conference for providing aid to Montenegro is being organized in London in the near future.  What are the possibilities that Montenegro might get loans for development under such conditions?

VUJANOVIC:  I think it is crucial for Montenegro that it got the status of a member of the Pact for Stability of Southeastern Europe.  This gives it access to all the economic packages that are part of this Pact, which also includes aid from financial institutions what are members of the Pace for Stability in Southeastern Europe.  I believe that these administrative difficulties can be surmounted.  With European Investment Bank the problem is that Yugoslavia is still one of its debtors, and with the World Bank the problem is that administratively a state must have sovereignty in order to get a credit.  Both in one and the other case exceptions were made.  With the World Bank the exception were Palestine, Bosnia, Kosovo, and I think that reasons exists for exceptions to be made with both banks.  What divides the membership in these two organizations is the fact that the German Government offered loan guarantees, which I believe will be the first guarantee among the governments of European Union countries for securing loans for Montenegro that will be carried out by a German company.  This should be the first example, because we expect that other EU counties will follow Germany's example.  EU companies are very interested in investing in Montenegro and I believe that they will also forward demands to the governments of EU countries to guarantee loans for Montenegro.

With this Montenegro would considerably loosen its outer wall of sanctions, and I'm sure that a process of overall loosening toward Montenegro is beginning, with all citizens of Montenegro standing to benefit.

VREME:  There have been too many rumors in different media regarding the building of private centers in Herzegovina and Albania for the citizens of Montenegro in the event that a conflict brakes out.  What is your information regarding this?

VUJANOVIC:  This is misinformation with the clear objective of driving fear into the hearts of Montenegrins.  Statements made by the government in Trebinje and Republika Srpska are very clear about such supposed camps.  We also had clear statements from the Albanian side regarding camps in their country.  Therefore, this is simply misinformation, because there is no reason to erect camps in the vicinity of Montenegro.  We have no need for unreast in Montenegro, even though a certain desire for this exists.

VREME:  Are you convinced that peace will be maintained in Montenegro?

VUJANOVIC:  As a state, we will not offer any reason for a conflict which could lead to civil unreast.  State activities are directed at creating a situation in which permanent peace and stability can be ensured in Montenegro, and I hope that all those who think otherwise will realize that there is no room for unreast in Montenegro.

Serbian Opposition Must Unify

VREME:  According to you, how realistic are the expectations that changes will occur in Serbia and how do you assess the political scene in Serbia?

VUJANOVIC:  We do not want to create political life in Serbia from Montenegro, just as we do not want political life in Montenegro to be created from within Serbia.  We wish to demonstrate with out positive example that a project of integration, economic reform and democracy represents something that will get the support of the international community and will secure a better life for the citizens of Montenegro.  This should be a strong factor in unifying the opposition in Serbia toward realizing such a project, and I think that with a positive example we could offer a clear formula to Serbia - how to behave in a parliamentary battle.
It is clear that the Serbian opposition must be united in order to win, but in order to be unified, it must overcome the differences which are not worth of an absence of agreement in the Serbian opposition.  Unified - it can win.  I wish that the Serbian opposition should unite in order to enter a mach in which it will be the winner.

Prevlaka and Kosovo

VREME:  It is clear that Montenegro has begun renewing its relations with its neighbors, with Croatia in particular.  Can you tell us what is the present position of Montenegro and what is its approach in resolving the issue of Prevlaka?

VUJANOVIC:  Regarding the conflict in Prevlaka, we offered bilateral talks to Croatia.  In the event that this issue is not resolved in those talks, then there is the option of international arbitrage.

However, I think it important that this issue should not strain relations between Montenegro and Croatia.  It must not inhibit the flow of goods and people, because it is precisely through such communication that we will sooner reach a resolution of the conflict.  Our attitude to Prevlaka has not changed.  We see Prevlaka as contentious territory, and we see Croatia as a security risk.  I believe that a solution can be found bilaterally.  It this is not possible, we are ready to pass over the matter to an international arbiter.

VREME:  Presently the conflicts in Kosovska Mitrovica are very current, as well as those in the south of Serbia.  Soon there will also be NATO maneuvers in Kosovo.  How do you assess this?

VUJANOVIC:  Such conflicts and instability naturally worries us and everything should be done within Yugoslavia and within the international community in order for an end to be put to these conflicts.  I am very worried by the developments in the south of Serbia.  Everything must be done in order to avoid the opening of a new crisis in the area of Medvedja, Presevo and Bujanovac.  This must be done my members of the KFOR and by responsible people in those three communities, as well as by Serbian officials.  A way must be found to avoid a conflict and resolve problems in peace.

A Word or Two About Smuggling

VREME:  Montenegro continues to be blamed for the smuggling of various goods across the Adriatic, with it being a constant fixture in Italian media, as well as in some local media?

VUJANOVIC:  The issue of cigarette trade has been discussed for some time now in Montenegro and it is very important that it has been investigated twice already by EU committees for illegal trade which concluded that there is nothing in the realm of state-run crime.  The committees stated that this is a flow of goods which needs to be negotiated on the level of states through which the goods flow.  We have established good communication with Italy.  An agreement has been made between our and Italian police forces and we are ready to offer all our assistance in controlling the individuals who conduct that trade, and in all cases where Italy expresses interest, to extradite those individuals.

There is no mystery in this.  This is a job which is being carried out in transit and which was done from other shores along the Adriatic, prior to having take root in Montenegro.  At that time it was in the service of the needs of those territories and I do not see that there is any reason to blow this up into state smuggling or into anything resembling this.  We are completely ready to cooperate, to control this trafficking and cooperate with responsible officials in Italy and other countries.

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