Montenegro's leader accuses Serbia

Montenegro's pro-independence leader accused Serbia on Wednesday of "making the same mistakes" as during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia by interfering in the republic's upcoming independence referendum.

"The hegemonist policies of Serbia are reminiscent of the ones in the 1990s toward Croatia and Bosnia," Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said during the final TV debate with the leader of Montenegro's anti-independence bloc, Predrag Bulatovic, before Sunday's referendum.

Voters are to decide whether the Adriatic Sea republic should split from Serbia, and mark a final, symbolic end to the former Yugoslavia, or remain within the troubled Balkan union. The two are the only republics of the former, six-state Yugoslav federation to have remained linked after the country's violent disintegration in the 1990s.

In the early 1990s, the Serb-led Yugoslav army intervened in independence-minded Croatia and Bosnia under the pretext of protecting Serbs living there. The ethnic bloodshed that followed left at least 200,000 people dead and millions displaced, the worst carnage in Europe since World War II.

"Serbia has not learned the lesson," Djukanovc said. "Don't protect the Serbs in Montenegro as we know how you protected the interests of Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia."

The Serb-led army has vowed to remain strictly neutral in the vote, a sign of reassurance after the military sided with the Serbs in the 1990s conflicts.

But Serbian officials have warned Montenegrins that that if the tiny republic becomes independent, strict borders would be established between the two former Balkan allies, and Serbia would introduce customs fees and a fivefold increase in scholarship prices for Montenegrins studying in Belgrade, as well as for those needing medical help in the Serbian capital.

Djukanovic accused the Serbian conservative government of attempting to frighten Montenegrins and so influence them to vote against independence, reports the AP.


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