16 November 2006

Montenegro: Kosovo premier visit triggers protests



Podgorica, 3 Nov. (AKI) - Kosovo prime minister Agim Ceku's one-day visit to Montenegro on Friday has stirred unprecedented protests from the opposition ranks, from Kosovo Serbs and Belgrade officials. Ceku came to the capital, Podgorica, at the invitation of outgoing prime minister Milo Djukanovic. He said Ceku's visit was "in the interest of good neighbourly relations" and would not affect the decision on the future status of the breakaway southern Serbian province, most of whose overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian majority demands independence.


But Montenegro opposition parties said in a joint statement that Djukanovic, who decided to quit politics after 17 years in power and winning a September 10 general election, had humiliated Montenegro and 'poured oil on the fire of Serbia's problems' while it is trying to prevent Kosovo's independence.


Montenegro opposition leaders pointed out that Ceku, who earned a rank of general of the Croatian army during its war of secession from the former Yugoslavia, has been accused by Serbs of war crimes, and that Djukanovic's invitation equalled the approval of such acts.


"It's a shame," said Predrag Popovic, leader of Montenegro people's party. Popovic accused Djukanovic, who in a 21 May referendum led Montenegro to independence from its state union with Serbia, of now siding with ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo in an effort to snatch the province away from Serbia.


Kosovo has been under United Nations control since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign pushed Serbian forces out of the province, and the international community is expected to make a decision on its status by the end of this year.


At a joint press conference with Djukanovic, Ceku said that Kosovo was just a step away from independence, stressing that it was "the only tenable solution." He dimissed accusations about war crimes, saying he was a "professional soldier who took all his tasks in war and peace seriously and behaved responsibly and professionally."


Djukanovic said the complaints over Ceku's visit were the result of "a xenophobic and autistic mindset." He said any solution that Belgrade and Pristina work out with the international community would be acceptable to Montenegro, which sees Kosovo and Serbia as its neighbours. "By talking to other neighbours, we do no harm to Serbia," said Djukanovic.


Montenegro's Serbian Radical party said it was now clear that Djukanovic was working in collusion "with the Albanian mafia and war criminals" supporting "the greatest enemies of the Serbian people."


Kosovo's Serb National Council called on Montenegro's authorities and nominee for new prime minister Zeljko Sturanovic to distance themselves from Djukanovic's policies. Another opposition leader, Andrija Mandic, said Ceku's "arms are bloody up to his shoulders," adding that the visit was the biggest blow to Montenegro by the outgoing prime minister.


In Belgrade, Nebojsa Bakarec, a high official of premier Vojislav Kostunica's democratic party of Serbia, said Ceku should be tried for war crimes, "as a proven terrorist and murderer of Serbs in Croatia," and not parade on a state visit to Montenegro. He accused Djukanovic of "directly interfering in Serbia's internal affairs".