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Reuters: Montenegro PM says no delaying independence vote

Published date: 17.10.2005 14:00 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said he will not postpone a referendum on independence despite pressure from the European Union which fears it could upset regional stability.

Montenegro's ruling coalition aims to hold the vote to end its union with Serbia as early as February -- the earliest date permitted under a charter brokered by the EU in 2003.

"The EU wants to postpone the referendum ... to, say, early autumn 2006, thinking it would meanwhile solve the Kosovo problem," Djukanovic told Montenegrin TV on Thursday night.

He said the referendum was firmly scheduled for spring 2006.

"Deadlines cannot be postponed ... The deadline for holding the referendum is from early February to end-April," Djukanovic said. He added he had warned European officials that delaying the vote would be "impossible" and "lead to political suicide".

The EU wants to discourage further fragmentation in the Balkans. It fears the emergence of an independent Montenegro would complicate talks over the status of Serbia's U.N.-run province of Kosovo and inspire independence demands in ethnically divided Bosnia and Macedonia.

Brussels' main leverage is the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the first step to joining the wealthy bloc.

Talks with Serbia-Montenegro were launched this week, based on a "twin-track" approach. The two states will negotiate most terms separately but Brussels is aiming for a single SAA.

It has said that a separation would "inevitably" delay the process. Although no demands have been made publicly, officials have hinted that the two states, and especially tiny Montenegro, have a better chance of making it to the EU together.

The lopsided union salvaged from the ruins of the former Yugoslav federation has long been under attack by critics in both republics as a marriage of convenience doomed to divorce.
Serbia has eight million people, Montenegro 650,000. They have separate currencies and separate laws, sharing a weak joint council that critics say is barely operational.

Its fragility was laid bare in September when President Svetozar Marovic, a Montenegrin, said he might quit over allegations he was involved in an army procurement scandal.
The scandal exposed the distrust between the two former Yugoslav republics as Serb leaders said Belgrade was paying the lion's share of the union's expenses while Montenegrins accused Serbia of wanting to take control of the army.
Serbs show no emotional ties to the state union and seem to have lost interest in Montenegro's independence aspirations, first announced over 6 years ago.

A poll among Montenegrins in September showed 42 percent backed independence and 35 opposed it. A government-sponsored lobbying group called Movement for an Independent Montenegro is launching a campaign on Oct. 15 to win over undecided voters.

By Ljubinka Cagorovic