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Fear of Fighting Mounts as Montenegro Prepares for Sunday Vote

December 14, 1992

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Gunfire is already a fact of life in Montenegro, and many residents fear divisions over the republic’s alliance with Serbia could soon lead to civil war.

General elections scheduled for Sunday will highlight the historic division between Montenegrin ″whites″ - who basically see themselves as Serbs and support ties with Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia - and independence-minded ″greens.″

Both groups reportedly have armed men ready to back their view with violence, and most people in this southern mountainous republic believe that whatever the results of the election, fighting is inevitable.

″We know each other, and we cannot imagine (even) sharing a table with someone of the opposing political view,″ said a bartender in the downtown Torzo Cafe who refused to identify himself for security reasons.

Graffiti on the walls of the cafe, a meeting point for those who want Montenegro and Serbia to split, declares: ″This is not Serbia.″ That point of view appears to have gained support as the cost of the alliance has mounted.

U.N. sanctions imposed six months ago on the two republics - all that is left of the truncated former six-republic Yugoslav federation - have taken a heavy toll on Montenegro, whose 600,000 residents that has always been relatively poor.

It now finds itself a pariah-state by virtue of association with Milosevic, the Serbian leader who is viewed by most of the world as instigating the Yugoslav conflict that has already claimed at least 17,000 lives.

Montenegro’s government has consistently proven more willing than Serbia’s to compromise with Croatia and Bosnia, rival former Yugoslav republics that have suffered the brunt of the fighting.

Last month in federal parliament, Montenegrin deputies prevented Serbian nationalists from ousting federal Premier Milan Panic, a moderate who has sought to end the war.

But the ruling Social Democratic Party - renamed Communists - continues to support the alliance in principle and tolerate the presence of armed Milosevic supporters.

Activists of the Liberal Union, the leading anti-Milosevic political movement, said gun-toting militants blocking roads have prevented them from holding rallies in northern Montenegro, where support for Milosevic is strong.

The police, they said, cooperate with the militants, some of whom apparently are members of extremist groups based in Serbia, such as Vojislav Seselj’s Radicals.

Srdjan Stankovic, an independent intellectual and a math lecturer at Podgorica University, said supporters of the Liberal Party and other anti- Milosevic groups thus faced no choice but to arm themselves, too.

″It’s no secret that main Montenegrin parties have armed some of their members,″ he said. ″Everybody knows that the Social Democrats have armed people ... (and) the others are following suit.″

The Liberal Union’s newspaper charged that Milosevic - ″the author of chaos and darkness″ - is actively seeking to extend the war to Montenegro.

It said Milosevic, ″after two ‘successful’ wars (in Croatia and Bosnia), is expecting a third. It seems that in Montenegro everything is set for it.″

Recent opinion polls in Montenegro show the Social Democrats, who overwhelmingly won elections two years ago, with more support than any other party but short of a majority. The National Party, which also favors strong ties to Serbia, has about 10 percent support.

President Momir Bulatovic, a Social Democrat, is considered certain to win because the fractured opposition has not united behind one candidate.

But if the opposition parties win a combined majority in the 150-seat parliament, ″they have promised to unite and form the government,″ Stankovic said.

But like virtually everyone else here, he expects supporters of Milosevic to try to fight back with guns if defeated at the polls.

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