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Crackdown of Montenegro Beginning

April 1, 1999

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic removed Montenegro’s army commander and seven other top generals Thursday, in what could be the first step in a crackdown against the republic’s pro-Western government.

The United States, meanwhile, warned that any attempt to undermine Montenegro’s government could escalate the conflict with NATO. Serbia and tiny Montenegro form Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia’s official Tanjug news agency said that Milosevic’s close ally, Gen. Milorad Obradovic, was named commander of the Second Army Corps in Montenegro, replacing Gen. Radosav Martinovic.

There was no official explanation for the reshuffle, announced in the second week of NATO’s air attacks on Yugoslavia and seen as an effort to tighten Belgrade’s control over Montenegro.

Sources in the Montenegrin government said Martinovic had not carried out Milosevic’s orders to rein in Montenegro’s pro-Western administration at a time the country is under attack.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity. Their report could not be independently confirmed.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the United States is very concerned by the situation in Montenegro. He accused Belgrade of engaging in provocations.

``A Belgrade takeover in Montenegro would destroy the most credible and potent democratic force in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and have negative implications throughout the region,″ Rubin said.

He urged the Montenegrin public to remain calm and avoid confrontation with security forces.

``We have reiterated to President Milosevic that world attention on Kosovo does not mean that Yugoslavia has a free hand to cause problems in other parts of Yugoslavia or the region,″ Rubin said.

He said the military shake-up ordered by Milosevic is a clear indication that he has doubts about the loyalty of his forces there, and any attempt to overthrow Montenegro’s democratically elected government would only ``escalate the conflict with NATO.″

Tanjug said Milosevic also removed seven other senior military commanders _ including two infantry generals _ apparently trying to boost his defense after NATO strikes and to strengthen his position against any possible military coup by officers calling for a cease-fire.

Despite U.S. support for Montenegro, NATO warplanes have targeted Yugoslav military facilities in the republic.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently telephoned Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and expressed concern about a possible attempt by Belgrade to oust his government.

Montenegro’s police force, which is loyal to Djukanovic, has indicated its opposition to any Yugoslav army moves against his government.

Montenegro’s deputy police commander, Vuk Boskovic, said Wednesday that ``the citizens of Montenegro should trust the police, which are ready to protect their peace.″

There are an estimated 10,000 police and 15,000 Yugoslav army troops stationed in Montenegro.

The government sources said they expected the Yugoslav army to try and close Montenegro’s borders with tanks. Montenegro refused to implement a state of war imposed by the Yugoslav government on March 24 when NATO started its strikes.

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