Montenegro Warns of Rising Balkan Tensions

06 November 2008 Podgorica – Montenegro is urging NATO members to speed up membership for its neighbours, where rising tensions are threatening stability since the wars of the 1990s.

“Our firm position is that stability remains the foremost issue of our region,” Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said.

“The solution of that problem is in granting membership to all the regional countries,” Djukanovic said after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

During the talks, Djukanovic handed over Montenegro’s formal application for NATO’s membership action plan. The plan – seen as the last step before full membership – is designed to ensure that a candidate nation meets NATO standards in areas such as military reform, civilian control over the armed forces, and transparency in defence budgets.

Djukanovic said he was encouraged by de Hoop Scheffer’s response. He said the secretary general had told him “NATO is not tired of enlargement.”

NATO and European Union leaders have expressed concern in recent weeks over increasing ethnic tensions in Bosnia, where Western troops have maintained the peace since a bloody civil war in the 1990s.

Worries also were sparked by Serbia’s angry reaction to the decisions of Montenegro and Macedonia to recognise the independence of Kosovo, which seceded in February. Ethnic Serb rioters fought with police in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, to protest the government’s move.

Later Wednesday, Djukanovic met the European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana to discuss Montenegro’s bid to join the 27-nation organisation.

“We shared ideas on how to move the whole region toward the European Union,” Solana said.
Montenegro, a nation of 630,000 people, plans to apply for EU candidate status before the end of the year.

The states of the former Yugoslavia – Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro – have repeatedly complained that their progress toward membership has been unnecessarily long and complicated.

In contrast, they say, the bloc granted membership relatively easily to countries considered less economically developed, such as Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states.

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