UK warns against Yugoslav split

BBC News Online, Wednesday 25 April 2001, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK

The British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is to increase pressure on the Montenegrin government to shelve plans for a referendum on independence from Yugoslavia.

Mr Cook is due in Montenegro on Wednesday morning as part of a whistle-stop tour of the Balkans which started in Kosovo on Tuesday.

Mr Cook's visit comes three days after an expectedly narrow election win for the party of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who supports independence.

It suggested that Montenegrins are deeply split on the question of whether or not to secede from Yugoslavia.

Mr Cook is hoping that Montenegro can now be persuaded to open a dialogue with Belgrade to reach a negotiated settlement on the issue.

End Kosovo violence

Mr Cook on Tuesday called on Albanian leaders in Kosovo to work harder to suppress violence.

Speaking in Pristina, Mr Cook urged the Kosovo leadership to start a dialogue with Belgrade.

He reminded Kosovo Albanians the international will that brought international troops to Kosovo was not a mandate for independence.

Mr Cook said the era of redrawing the borders of the Balkans in blood was over, and if either Kosovo or Montenegro wanted to seek a new relationship with Belgrade, they must not do it through any plan to secede unilaterally.

Muted response

When Mr Cook visited Pristina just after the Kosovo war two years ago, he was given a hero's welcome.

This time the response was far more muted and his enthusiasm for what is happening here more guarded, says the BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall.

The narrow result of Sunday's election in Montenegro was, according to Mr Cook, very ambivalent.

Privately, British officials seem relieved but wary about what this will mean and whether the independence referendum promised by the Montenegrin president can now be deferred, our correspondent says.

What Britain and its allies would like to see—and are pushing for behind the scenes—are negotiations to give Montenegro self-government in some new and looser federation—a formula they would then like to see applied to Kosovo.

Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude said: It is probably counter-productive for Western political leaders to go into Montenegro and lecture leaders there on what they should do in the country.

He said it was for Montenegro to decide whether it wanted to declare independence.

It is wrong and unwise to put pressure on them in this way, added Mr Maude.