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Serbia and Montenegro Declare Formation of Union

By Blaine Harden
The Washington Post


The remains of the 73-year-old Yugoslav federation were officially laid to rest Monday as the only two member republics that had not declared themselves independent announced formation of a truncated version of the old South Slav union.

The new state -- called the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" -- is composed of the old federation's largest republic, Serbia, and its smallest, Montenegro, and comprises less than two-fifths of the former Yugoslav territory and less than half its population.

Leaders of the new state -- proclaimed in Belgrade by Serbian and Montenegrin members of Yugoslavia's communist-run rump parliament -- pledged that they would work to halt the ethnic warfare that destroyed the old six-republic federation, left more than 10,000 dead and created nearly a million refugees in the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"I hope the adoption of the new constitution will mark the ending of agony and chaos," said Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who has been accused by the United States and other western governments of being the chief aggressor in the continuing conflict between Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslav republics.

In Croatia, local Serb militia forces backed by the Serbian government and the Serb-led Yugoslav army seized about a third of that republic's territory in six months of heavy fighting, while in Bosnia, Serbian paramilitary units and the army have been conducting a similar offensive over the past month.

Because of Serbia's continued aggressive behavior in Bosnia, the United States has threatened not to recognize the new Balkan union as the legal successor to Yugoslavia, a position that could deprive the new state of membership in the United Nations and of further association with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler said: "As we have explained to the Serbian leadership, the U.S. attitude about future relations with Serbia and Montenegro will be framed by their demonstrated respect for the territorial integrity of the other former Yugoslav republics and for the rights of minorities on their territory.

Tutwiler said that the United States will consider "their willingness to negotiate all related issues [at a continuing EC-sponsored peace conference] ... on the basis of mutual agreement with the other four republics," and she added: "The role of Serbia in the current violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be a major consideration."

U.S. and European Community diplomats were conspicuous by their absence Monday from the ceremony proclaiming the new Yugoslavia. Greece was the only one of the 12 EC nations to send a representative, along with Russia, China and a number of nations of the Non-Aligned Movement. China was the only major country to recognize the new state thus far, the Belgrade government announced.

Formation of the new Yugoslavia also raises vexing questions about who is to control units of the Yugoslav army that remain inside Bosnia. About 100,000 troops -- mostly Serbs and Montenegrins -- and a vast arsenal of tanks, planes and artillery are spread across the republic, and if they remain under the sole authority of the new Yugoslavia, they become, in effect, an occupying force of a foreign power.

Talks begun Sunday between Serbian, Bosnian and army leaders to try to negotiate a peaceful troop withdrawal. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic has insisted that army commanders must submit to his authority or pull their forces out of the republic. Army leaders have said they will leave only if they are asked to do so by leaders of the republic's Muslim, Croat and Serb communities. Serbs, who are outnumbered two to one by the other ethnic groups, do not want the army to leave.