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U.S. Warns Ex-Montenegro President

January 7, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States is expressing concern about the prospect of orchestrated violence to prevent Montenegro’s pro-Western president-elect from taking power.

Robert Gelbard, the State Department’s top envoy to the region, warned Montenegro’s outgoing president, Momir Bulatovic, against organizing violent protests as a way to keep Milo Djukanovic from taking office as scheduled on Jan. 14.

Montenegro and the much larger Serbia form what is left of Yugoslavia. Bulatovic, a protege of war crimes suspect Slobodan Milosevic, was defeated by the reformist Djukanovic in his bid for re-election in October.

``We are concerned about the violent threats from the current president,″ Gelbard said Tuesday at a news conference. ``The U.S. feels it is of the greatest importance to see a smooth transition to President Djukanovic.″

In a further bid to undermine Djukanovic’s electoral victory, Milosevic has used the federal supreme court, which he controls, to declare invalid some of the ballots cast in the election.

With its 10.5 million people, Serbia dwarfs Montenegro’s population of 600,000. But the two states nominally enjoy equal status on the Yugoslav federal level, and Djukanovic could unseat Milosevic with the support of Serbia’s opposition parties.

Gelbard said he plans a second meeting with Djukanovic in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, when he returns to the region next week. He said he first met Djukanovic during a visit last July.

The United States also is ``tremendously concerned about the violence developing in Kosovo and the lack of dialogue″ between ethnic Albanians and Serbian authorities in Belgrade, Gelbard said.

More than 90 percent of the population of Kosovo, a Serbian province, are ethnic Albanians. Most do not recognize Serbia’s institutions and want Kosovo to gain independence and join neighboring Albania. Milosevic crushed Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989 and has ruled the southern province with heavy military and police power.

Gelbard warned an underground Albanian group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has mounted a series of attacks against the Serbian security forces, ``to be careful in what it does and in what in alleges to do because they run the risk of being designated a terrorist organization,″ by the United States.

He said he had advised ethnic Albanian students who have been demonstrating for the right to study in their own language to keep their protests peaceful.

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