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Montenegro Leader Pledges to Abide by Serbian Accord - 2002-04-30

Montenegro's pro-independence president, Milo Djukanovic, is in Washington where he has met with Secretary of State Colin Powell as well as International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials. Mr. Djukanovic says he is determined to carry out the European Union-brokered agreement that holds Serbia and Montenegro together for the next three years.

In remarks at the U.S. Institute for Peace Tuesday, Mr. Djukanovic made clear that he regards the federation agreement as good for three years only. He called the accord a temporary compromise that satisfies neither Serbs nor Montenegrins. The two countries, he said, continue to have different and autonomous economic and financial systems. Montenegro uses the euro currency while the Yugoslav dinar is not accepted in Montenegro. Once new constitutions have been prepared, Yugoslavia will no longer exist and will be renamed Serbia and Montenegro at the end of this year.

Mr. Djukanovic suggested that even though he was essentially forced by the European Union to accept the mid-March federation agreement, he will honor its provisions. The EU says Montenegro is dragging its feet on implementation, endangering a June 30 deadline for writing a new constitution.

Mr. Djukanovic indicated that the level of corruption in Montenegro is overstated and that what corruption there is results mostly from ten years of war in the former Yugoslavia. Speaking through an interpreter, he said he favors increased powers for Montenegro's small Albanian minority of seven percent. Ethnic Albanians who support Montenegrin independence are represented in the Montengrin parliament and in the government.

"I must also say that ethnic Albanians living in Montenegro demonstrate in my view an enviable level of respect for Montenegro which they see as their own state," he said.

Mr. Djukanovic spoke in favor of closer integration of Montenegro into European Union and NATO structures. He said Montenegro wants to be part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, a first step towards NATO membership.

The Montenegrin president is under considerable political pressure at home. The government is split on independence and the new federation with Serbia. Mr. Djukanovic said despite European Union opposition to independence, probably 55 percent of the 800,000 Montenegrins favor independence. He said Montenegro continues to need international support and that he hopes to obtain a major new loan from the World Bank.