Havel warns of new Balkans war in Montenegro

Could the Balkans be heading for another war? President Vaclav Havel raised the prospect of a new military conflict in what remains of Yugoslavia at the weekend, in a joint statement with his Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic. The two men warned the international community not to underestimate the new situation unfolding in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, which they say could have dire consequences for stability in the Balkans. Rob Cameron reports.

Montenegrin officials announced on Saturday that the Yugoslav federation was effectively dead. The announcement came after Belgrade decided to extend the rule of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic without Montenegro's official consent. Yugoslavia's pro-Western coastal republic hinted that it was ready to declare independence if Milosovic stuck to his course, a move that could threaten armed conflict and rain new misfortune on the region.

President Havel, currently on a state visit to Croatia, has once again thrown himself into the search for a solution to the instability that has plagued the Balkans over the last decade. The Czech president was a firm supporter of Western policy in Kosovo, one of the few senior Czech officials to give his full support to NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia at a time when his prime minister was describing his Alliance colleagues as barbarians.

But President Havel had a clear message for the West, advice which he said could prevent the prospect of a new Balkans conflict. The international community must take action now, he said, by producing a clear concept to deny the Yugoslav president the chance of provoking a new war over Montenegro. With the head of the Montenegrin Supreme Court quoted as saying that the people of Montenegro were no longer equal citizens of Yugoslavia, and with opposition leaders in Belgrade saying a more aggressive response from Montenegro could have triggered civil war, that action looks increasingly urgent.