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Experts Skeptical  About Serbia-Montenegro Agreement - 2002-03-22

Two scholars who specialize in Yugoslavia voiced skepticism Thursday about the durability of a new constitutional arrangement negotiated last week between the country's two remaining republics, Serbia and Montenegro.

Former Yugoslav diplomat Vladimir Matic calls the new constitutional arrangement a temporary solution. The accord, negotiated under European Union auspices, provides for the creation of a new loose federation to be called Serbia and Montenegro. The accord would come into effect some time after June 1. Mr. Matic, an occasional advisor to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, teaches at Clemson University.

"The agreement legalizes the status-quo. It legalizes what has existed for about three years," he said. "Montenegro has been virtually independent. It even had some diplomatic missions - I believe 14. But it was not internationally recognized, formally."

Mr. Matic spoke in Washington Thursday at a forum on Serbia's integration into Europe, sponsored by the Iowa-based Stanley Foundation. According to Mr. Matic, a constitutional expert, much work remains to be done before the accord comes into effect. He explained: "Because the three assemblies - the federal assembly, the Serbian assembly and the Montenegrin assembly - have to adopt what is termed a political agreement, they have to form a joint commission to make it into a legal document, which has to be adopted by all three assemblies, in order to implement the agreement."

Mr. Matic says Montenegro got most of what it wanted in the negotiations, although it is not able to hold a referendum on independence for three years. But it retains its own currency, and there will be no joint economic institutions, something economic reformers in Serbia had said was necessary to hold the new state together.

John Lampe, a University of Maryland history professor, speaking at the same forum, is likewise skeptical about the new agreement, and cautions that Montenegro may be disappointed. "If I were watching this develop, I would be watching the economic consequences in Montenegro, especially as the previous western support runs down and out. And the Montenegrin political leadership was told this in no uncertain terms, that there won't be any more aid," he said.

Mr. Lampe believes the political situation in Serbia is now quite unsettled because of the agreement and last week's detention by the military of a deputy prime minister and an American diplomat. New elections are expected in Serbia later this year.