CLAIMING MILOSEVIC "orchestrated the bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia" IS A PURE LIE.

Associated Press

April 21, 1997

Milosevic May Lose His Last Ally

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia (AP) -- Six years after he orchestrated the bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic seems to be scaring away his last ally -- Montenegro.

The tussle between Milosevic's Serbia and its last partner in the shrunken Yugoslavia, a mountainous republic of just 620,000 people hugging the Adriatic, is redolent with intrigue over money and power.

It pits the autocratic Milosevic and his ally, Montengro's president, against Montenegro's prime minister, a swashbuckler in the fighting tradition of his rugged republic.

At stake are Milosevic's ability to prolong his political career, and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's alleged business and smuggling ties to Italy, 120 miles across the Adriatic.

So far, Djukanovic has won popular support, portraying himself as defender of poor, proud Montenegro, where people brag of never being vanquished by the Balkans' many invaders.

But power rests with Milosevic -- and his weaker ally, President Momir Bulatovic -- making the outcome of the battle uncertain.

If the prime minister holds on, he could stymie Milosevic's bid to become president of the truncated Yugoslav federation later this year. Constitutionally, Milosevic cannot seek a third term as Serbian president. He would then move to the hitherto powerless Yugoslav post. But that requires election by the federal Yugoslav parliament -- and Montenegro's votes.

Milosevic, who has broken anybody who interferes with his power, is out for the premier. But he has to tread warily: Djukanovic allegedly controlled the smuggling of cigarettes and gasoline during the 3 1/2-year embargo against Yugoslavia for fomenting war in Bosnia.

The profits made the premier a rich man -- he regularly offers guests a boat ride across the Adriatic and dinner in Italy. But he also directed money into pension and insurance funds for ordinary Montenegrins, thus increasing his popularity.

Smuggling saved Montenegro's economy from total collapse. Now, Milosevic has diverted illegal trade through Serbia -- and thwarted the prime minister's plans to declare Montenegro an offshore tax haven to replace the smuggling profits.

Djukanovic, 36, tall and city slick, went on the attack in February, saying that Milosevic -- with his opposition to Western-style economic reforms and democracy -- is a man of the past and should quit for the good of the country.

Milosevic retaliated, ordering the president to make Djukanovic fire four associates. The premier dumped just one aide and then resigned dramatically from a top post in the party that rules Montenegro.

Round one to Djukanovic: Graffiti appeared in several Montenegrin towns echoing his line: ``With Serbia, yes. Under Serbia, no.''

At a recent Serbian-Montenegrin soccer match, hundreds of Montenegrin fans chanted: ``This is not Serbia.''

Workers' unions and intellectuals signaled their support. The police also appear more inclined to the premier than to the mustachioed president, whose mild manner belies a steely instinct for staying in power since Milosevic installed both him and Djukanovic in 1989.

But Bulatovic's skills may be failing when he needs them most. A senior Montenegrin government official, insisting on anonymity, said the president has tried but failed to oust his premier, and is losing ground.

If Bulatovic gets too weak, Milosevic -- whose allies and media in Serbia are baying for Djukanovic's resignation -- may dump the Montenegrin president, too.

The president has tried to maintain momentum, accusing the chief of the intelligence service, a Djukanovic man, of planning to crack down on presidential supporters. Montenegro state TV, which the president controls, aired denunciations of the premier.

This backfired. The president is now widely regarded as more loyal to Belgrade -- and Milosevic -- than to his own people.

Average Montenegrins are horrified, fearing a repeat of wars that rent Croatia and Bosnia and left more than 200,000 dead.