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Europe

Montenegro Forms New Union With Serbia

Serbia and Montenegro have signed a deal to redefine the Yugoslav federation. The pact puts an end to Montenegro's plans for independence - at least for now.

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Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica hopes the pact is permanent

The European Union had a vital interest in saving the Yugoslav federation. A breakup, the EU feared, would jeopardize the relative calm the Balkans have enjoyed recently and EU politicians wanted to draw the line on a decade of violence and war in the Balkans.

Brussels feared that if Montenegro became independent, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia and Serbs in Bosnia could feel encouraged to seek separation by violent or other means.

So the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana traveled to the region five times in the past four months to promote a deal between Serbia and Montenegro. On Thursday, the political leaders of the two republics finally signed a draft constitutional framework.

It aims at revamping the Yugoslav federation into a union of two semi-independent states. After the signing, Javier Solana said "We have taken an important step forward for the stability of the region and of Europe."

Good-bye Yugoslavia - Hello "Serbia and Montenegro"

The four-page agreement stipulates that the new entity will longer be called Yugoslavia, but "Serbia and Montenegro". The country will have joint foreign and defense policies. The army will be under the command of a three-member supreme defense council instead of a single defense minister.

But both Serbia and Montenegro will preserve some measure of independence. Both will have their own currencies, tax systems and economic policies.

Montenegro's strive for independence

Montenegro's plans for independence haven't been ultimately shelved. In Thursday's agreement, Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic only agreed to a three-year moratorium on a breakaway referendum.

The desire to form an independent country is still strong among the people of Montenegro. And Djukanovic's minority government depends on the support of a staunchly pro-independence party.

With that in mind, the Montenegrin President assured his independence-minded countrymen that relations with Serbia will be reevaluated.

"The agreement does not jeopardize the basic right of every people to re-examine, after a certain period, their stand on the future of their state," Djukanovic told reporters.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, on the other hand, hopes the agreement between Montenegro and Serbia will be permanent. "We got a solution that is acceptable for both Serbia and Montenegro, and for the region and Europe," he said on Thursday.

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