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New Series no.17/18 July - September 2000

The war comes home

In October 1998 Holbrooke arrived in Belgrade to persuade Milosevic of the seriousness of the NATO threat to bomb FRY. Despite all the efforts of the LSCG, the SDP and the [ethnic] Albanian parties, the Montenegrin assembly adopted a resolution that bound no one. At the meeting of the FRY Supreme Council, Dukanovic accepted the concept of `defence by all means available'. Monitor's comment was: `The Montenegrin majority once again fails to take a position.'

But Milosevic then uttered his historic `yes': NATO would control the skies over Kosovo, UN verifiers would be placed in Kosovo, the Serbian forces would withdraw to their earlier positions. The threat of bombing seemed to recede for good. In October 1998, however, Monitor warned: `The threat has not gone, since as one US official has stated: ``We don't trust Milosevic. We think it advisable to keep a loaded gun''.' Our pessimism was based on solid evidence. The FRY president was getting ready to make a final stand against his domestic enemies and the rest of the world. `How else can one explain the attacks against the Serbian and Montenegrin media? Why else is Milosevic keen to be rid of ``waverers'' in his own party?' The sceptics proved right. There ensued the massacre at Racak and the expulsion of Ambassador William Walker. The NATO engine began to warm up. `He'll go to the very end, but does he know where the end is?', Monitor quoted foreign analysts as wondering. The gates of hell opened. In March 1999 war again knocked on FRY's door. In an article entitled `After Milosevic's final No', a Monitor reporter described the atmosphere surrounding Holbrooke's failed talks with Milosevic. Tension in Podgorica. `On Wednesday morning the VJ informed all Montenegrin state institutions that a state of immediate war danger has been declared: ``in accordance with this, all state organs and institutions in Montenegro must behave in accordance with the FRY constitution''. There was no government response. Communication between the Montenegrin government and the VJ had been practically suspended since last Friday, when General Martinovic demonstrably took the side of the Belgrade regime', reported Monitor in its issue 440, dated 26 March 1999.

NATO bombs began to fall while the issue was still with the printers. The war had come home. `Wartime Monitor' appeared on 2 April. The pilot of a Montenegro Airlines plane, carrying eighty travellers and crew members, told the Podgorica air control tower : `We shall land and hope for the best.' NATO missiles were falling around the runway. The situation in the Montenegrin assembly was equally dramatic. The 24 March issue of Monitor had written: `Whether it likes it or not, Montenegro is at war with the Western alliance. Luckily, they [government and opposition] are not fighting one another. At least not yet. However desirable, a compromise at irst appeared impossible - but one was nevertheless achieved. After three days of negotiation and persuasion, all the parliamentary parties reached a minimum agreement, thereby removing at least for the time being the threat of civil war. It is not important whether this outcome was caused by sheer fear of the consequences, rather than by political and human common sense.'

Bombs fell in the vicinity of Podgorica, Cetinje, Danilovgrad, Niksic, Herceg Novi, Tivat, Bar, Petrovac. There was growing uncertainty. The hunt for conscripts began. To avoid the draft they chose to perform public labour. They simply did not wish to join yet another lost war: `The federal government is tightening the circle around Montenegro's reservists: military courts have been formed and trials have started. The message from Belgrade is that this is only the beginning. Those arrested can choose between being sentenced to from one to twenty years in prison and joining their military units, after which the army would forgive their lack of patriotism', wrote Monitor on 9 April 1999.

Montenegrin democratic opinion protested ever more loudly against the behaviour of the VJ in Montenegro and also in Kosovo. A Monitor editorial stated: `The Army of Yugoslavia is heroically defending the country from NATO air forces. With its tanks and armoured personnel carriers it is attacking its own citizens. Under the threat of death, columns of old men, women and children are being sent to the border, which it guards in accordance with the constitution. Lest they may lose their way, they are directed to follow railway lines flanked by mine fields. Yesterday the navy too became engaged in destabilization. Despite the message of the NATO commanders that, provided it did not act, it would not be attacked, since it is not engaged in ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, it used the waters of the port of Bar to attack NATO planes. This is a meaningless and dishonourable act. It is meaningless because the weapons at its disposal are so inferior that NATO could destroy it completely within hours. It is dishonourable because it takes decades, if not centuries, to build up a proper port, which is why ports are protected by international conventions - provided they are not used for hostile operations. The VJ's aim is clear: to destroy or destabilize the political balance in Montenegro' (16 April 1999).

The following week Monitor spoke about a new tragedy: `Six new deaths - a drop in the ocean of hundreds of thousands of lost lives. The topography was new: Kalucerski Laz on Montenegro's border won the right to be international news for at least one night. In this way, over the past ten years, places not registered on the map have become death sites, acquiring unexpected glory before sinking back into oblivion. After two days the news from Kalucerski Laz was confirmed: six people killed. Their names and place of burial are unknown. The Montenegrin authorities are unable to get the information. The Montenegrin democratic public has neglected its duty to learn the names of people killed in its home. The Army knows: it has killed four terrorists, is on the track of others, and has no time to discuss reports about the death of a woman and a thirteen-year-old child in Kalucerski Laz. Let the journalists and generals in Brussels act out this farce.'

The catastrophic effects of NATO intervention become ever more evident, but the real danger lurks on the ground. `The VJ's actions make it clear that its Podgorica command does not and will not compromise with the Montenegrin leaders. The barrier they have set up at Debeli Brijeg [on the Croatian border] indicates that the Army is not concerned only with defence, since the closure of the border crossing will not improve its military capability. It will, on the other hand, place Montenegro in a difficult situation, since it will cut access for humanitarian aid. Of the numerous leading members of the DPS, only President Dukanovic found the strength to blame Slobodan Milosevic for the NATO attacks. Others, especially the president of the assembly, spoke differently. It remains to be seen, Monitor speculated in its 23 April 1999 issue, whether this is a matter of playing a double game or a sign of a further split within the DPS.

The NATO spokesman stated: `We are sorry about the civilian victims, but we never said that collateral damage could be avoided.' That day in the small town of Murino, five fresh graves had been dug. Two of the dead were little girls. Fleeing from the horror of Kosovo, they met their deaths in northern Montenegro. A day later the body of a thirteen-year-old was dug from the ruins. The three of them could muster thirty-five years of life. Collateral damage. For the NATO planners, the severing of communications between Montenegro and Kosovo was a legitimate aim, and that is that. The iron military logic, regardless of the colour of the uniform, follows only one principle: that the aim justifies the means. The tragedy of the little town of Murino symbolized Montenegro's position. The danger was that the whole republic could become collateral damage of NATO or Milosevic - crushed between two forces.

Although the crisis in Montenegro itself was growing in intensity, Monitor registered the first signs that the war with NATO was approaching its end. `There are reasons to believe that Milosevic is pulling out from Kosovo. It is not clear as yet whether this is being done for tactical reasons, because of the expected NATO ground attack, or whether he has decided to obey the demands of the international community. The fact, however, is that Milosevic's use of naked force is gradually and cautiously being relaxed and a restart of negotiations is increasingly being mentioned as a way of resolving the crisis. This does not mean, of course, that Montenegro will find it easier to breathe in the future.'

Indeed, `absolved' of its Kosovo duties, the VJ became more active in Montenegro. Foreign but also domestic journalists now became the primary target. `On 10 May, the Day of Military Justice, the military police did not take a day off. They entered the Monitor editorial offices with the intention of arresting Professor Miodrag Perovic, founding father of the independent weekly Monitor and Radio ``Antenna M''. This was the third attempt since the appearance of our last issue. For on 28 April Lt. Col.Milorad Savovic, investigating judge of the Podgorica military court, had issued a warrant of arrest for Miodrag Perovic, Monitor journalist Beba Marusic and the editor of ``Radio Free Montenegro'' Nobojsa Redzic.' (Monitor, 14 May).

Less than two weeks later Monitor was able to report at least one instance of the Montenegrin police resorting to similar methods: `Politika's local bureau chief Dragomir Becirovic was met last Friday at the entrance to the house where he lives by Montenegrin police and taken away for an ``informational talk''. This ``talk'' lasted for eight hours: according to Becirevic, the police was especially interested in where he had got the information for his text: ``Dukanovic on the wings of the NATO alliance''. This piece of prose, peppered with poetic imagination, was considered offensive on the basis of legal articles protecting the Republic of Montenegro and the other republic within FRY from public abuse. According to Becirevic, the police behaved correctly.'

In a special supplement entitled `Refugees in Montenegro' and published regularly during the NATO bombing, our paper reported on the crimes and the organized `ethnic cleansing' in Kosovo. Ganija Llavdici testified in its issue of 18 June: `Our house is in the industrial part of Pec, on the road to the sugar factory. When the NATO bombing began, our neighbours in the hamlet of Kapasnica, which numbers around 500 houses, were the first victims. The army from the neighbouring barracks came together with the police and began to expel the people from their homes. The people ran away to the neighbouring villages. On the following day at around 5 p.m. masked men appeared in our part of the town. They wore black masks and sunglasses. About eight of them turned up in two civilian cars. It took them only twenty minutes to execute fourteen people who lived between the railway station and our house by shooting them in the head.' Ferat Imer: `I am one of those who witnessed the massacre in Izbica, or rather the effect of the massacre, since I was not in the village at the time. When I returned to the village, following the withdrawal of Serbian soldiers, police and paramilitaries, I saw a terrible picture. There were 147 dead, including women and children. We found three groups of the executed - in one place there were 70 dead. In one house women were killed while seeking shelter there. There were individual cases too. Old people, especially those unable to walk, were set on fire in their houses or tractors. They set fire to Shaban Musliu in his own home. He was 90.'

The first week of June was marked by two events. The Hague Tribunal charged Milosevic and his closest aides: Ojdanic, Milutinovic, Stoiljkovic and Sainovic with war crimes. Under the headline `The leader's twilight', Monitor wrote: `The charges did not just de-legitimize the Serbian leader and his collaborators, they also brought into question the legitimacy of the institutions they run. This is true above all of the VJ, whose commander and chief of staff have been charged with war crimes. The credibility of this army has long been under question, but in Kosovo it has finally been left with no alibi. There were no longer any Bosnian and Croatian Serbs, any Karadzic and Mladic, behind whom the generals could hide.' At the same time there occurred an open conflict, fortunately without tragic consequences, between the VJ and the Montenegrin ministry of the interior. `Since the two arrested policemen were let out, the tension in Cetinje has returned to a tolerable level. A temporary peace has returned to the Montenegrin capital. This, however, is a peace full of warnings. The citizens of Cetinje are losing their patience.'

The start of June also brought an end to the bombing. `The citizens of Serbia, and to an extent also those of Montenegro, have witnessed the strength of the Western alliance's blows. It took seventy days for this to become clear to the political and military leadership in Belgrade. Everyone is now, verbally at least, welcoming the peace.' Peace did arrive.

A Monitor journalist entered Pec together with the first KFOR units. She described the devastation: `Every house between the capitals of Montenegro and Kosovo is marked with white paint and in a similar handwriting. Some are marked with the word ``Serbs'', together with the obligatory quadruple ``S'', and sometimes also graffiti along the lines of ``Siptars, where are you now?'', or a poster of Milosevic accompanied by the words : ``God in his heaven, Serbs on earth''. Albanian houses are cold ruins. Roads are littered with stiff animal bodies emitting a terrible stench, mingled with the smell of smoke rising from freshly ignited Serb houses.'

End of the war or start of new tribulations? In its same 18 June issue, Monitor sent the following message: `Those who believe that the departure of Kosovo's Serbs equals the defeat of Milosevic's spiritual brotherhood are too optimistic. If the Serbs had remained, if they had found the courage to face their neighbours, that would have been the sign that they had rejected Slobodan Milosevic. A defeat of one side, on the other hand, does not amount to victory for another. Even the defeat of the national idea that gave birth to Slobodan Milosevic is not an Albanian victory. The Albanians will win only if they overcome the desire for revenge, only if they understand that they cannot live as victors next to defeated neighbours. If only the Albanians, now scattered throughout the world, knew what a fateful test of maturity awaits them on their return to their homes.'

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