March 22, 1997 Vreme News Digest Agency No 285

Mr. Djukanovic Goes to Washington

War of Letters

by Velizar Brajovic & Dejan Anastasijevic

Ratko Knezevic claims that Djukanovic's forged letter which was published in Politika daily arrived there via the FR Yugoslav embassy in Washington

Three weeks following Milo Djukanovic's interview with VREME, the Montenegrin prime minister found himself under heavy fire from the Belgrade regime. The bustle which ensued over the authenticity of his letter to the American congressmen is merely an introduction to much fiercer conflicts.

Ever since Milo Djukanovic stated his belief that "Slobodan Milosevic is an obsolete politician" who "should not remain on the Yugoslav political scene" in the now already famous interview with VREME (no. 331), it was clear that not much time would elapse before "fierce retaliation" would occur. A handy cause for squaring accounts with the prime minister of the government of Montenegro cropped up during his visit to the United States of America in the second week of March. Djukanovic paid a half-official visit to Washington, organized by the head of the Montenegrin Trade Mission, Ratko Knezevic.

A concrete trace of that visit was the promise made by the hosts that they would unblock five Yugoslav (Montenegrin) ships which lay captive in the American ports following the implementation of the sanctions. The second less tangible yet potentially fatal blow to the Montenegrin prime minister was a letter which he had allegedly dispatched to two American congressmen Nick Rahoul and Bruce Vent. These two congressmen were a part of the seven-member delegation which had paid a visit to Montenegro at the beginning of the year at which point they "ran" through Belgrade and put in an appearance at a coalition Zajedno meeting.

Djukanovic's above-mentioned letter to Rahul and Vent appeared in Politika daily on March 18, labeled as "exclusive" under the caption "Milo Djukanovic continues endeavoring to break up FR Yugoslavia and Serbia." The letter expresses gratitude to Rahul and Vent for their "contribution to promoting democracy, human rights, freedom of the press and the peace process." Beside this, accompanied by a few quotes from Djukanovic's interviews with VREME, the Associated Press and the BBC, the letter concludes that "obvious and deep differences exist" between Serbia and Montenegro. Towards the end of the letter the congressmen are asked to help Montenegro's Trade Mission in Washington to get in touch with the other members of Congress. Politika daily did not bother to explain to its readers which part of the published letter relates to a break up of FRY and Serbia, probably supposing that it needed no further explanations.

Without delving into the contents of the letter, a denial promptly arrived from Podgorica of its ever having been written. "I never wrote such a letter to the American congressmen and I do not stand behind those statements," said Djukanovic. The problem lies in the fact that certain sentences, identical to the ones which were published in Politika daily, were published by the Washington Times and on March 10, i.e. a full week before the Belgrade daily. Djukanovic claims it is a fake and a forgery, and that he had sent a fierce denial to the above-mentioned daily during his visit to America and that copies of that denial were sent to the local media as well. Ratko Knezevic employed similar arguments, claiming that even the letterhead of the dubious letter does not correspond to the one published in Politika daily. And, finally, congressman Rahal gave a statement on March 18 which, among other things, says: "A large part of the information regarding the 'correspondence' between myself and Prime Minister Djukanovic as published in today's issue of Politika daily is not true... I never received such a letter, and Prime Minister Djukanovic never told me that Montenegro is planning to announce its independence."

Still, Politika daily included another accusation to the one for breaking up Yugoslavia the very next day, stating that Djukanovic is lying and that the letter is authentic. On the same page and with the same treatment as the day before, Politika daily publishes an article under the caption "Milo Djukanovic dispatches letter by which he is breaking up FR Yugoslavia and Serbia." Under that caption, the contents of the letter which congressmen Rahul and Vent sent to the American Congress was published and it suggests that Djukanovic should appear in front of the Committee for International Relations (the American version of the Commission for Foreign Affairs which exists in our parliament). "We are including the letter which we have recently received from Prime Minister Djukanovic and numerous enclosures in relation to it. The letter is clear on its own, and as you yourself will notice, he wishes to speak to you and the other members of the Committee on supporting the process of democratization in Serbia." "Unlike the first letter, the second one is authentic," says Ratko Knezevic for VREME, explaining that prior to his journey to America, Djukanovic really had written to Rahul and Vent, however the contents have nothing to do with what Politika daily had published. "When Minister Milutinovic threatened that Yugoslavia would in future refuse to issue visas to the American congressmen, Prime Minister Djukanovic sent a message that in that case Montenegro would issue them with visas which is what Rahul and Vent are referring to." Knezevic claims that Djukanovic's forged letter in Politika daily arrived via the FRY embassy in Washington. "The charge d' affaires Vujnovic admitted to me that the letter published in Politika daily had originated from him, after which I said that Montenegro shall commence court proceedings due to the criminal act of forging the prime minister's signature and the seal of Montenegro." According to Knezevic, problems with the FRY diplomatic mission had emerged prior to this as well, during Djukanovic's previous visits to the US. "They are acting as though they are JUL's and SPS's embassy," he says.

On Wednesday, March 19, news was launched from Montenegro that the reports of "certain Belgrade dailies" are harmful to the reputation and dignity of the government of Montenegro, and that due to a harangue against Djukanovic, they shall demand "criminal liability for certain editors in chief and journalists." The problem consists in the fact that authorization for commencing such proceedings lie within the public prosecutor's office of the republic of Serbia, and there isn't much chance of their acting against Politika daily without prior consent from Tolstojeva 33.

It seems as though the decision on Djukanovic's eventual liquidation shall be made according to the outcome of the intense conflict between Belgrade and Podgorica which is being fought over the structure of the new federal government. That conflict, which by many stands as the true reason behind Djukanovic's statements aimed against Milosevic, is being fought over the office of the Minister of Finance, the Director of the Customs Office and governor of the National Bank of Yugoslavia on which Serbia, according to certain sources, wishes to appoint its own personnel. The fact that the president of Montenegro Momir Bulatovic has still not taken a stand in the "Djukanovic case" leads us to believe that there is still room for some kind of agreement.