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BELGRADE, Oct 26: The president of Montenegro and his Yugoslav counterpart agreed on Friday that a referendum should be held on independence for the tiny republic, after talks on its future within the Yugoslav Federation broke down, the two sides announced.

“We have tried today to bring closer our two platforms and we concluded that this is not possible,” Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told reporters after meeting with Montenegro’s Milo Djukanovic.

“What will happen is that the public in Montenegro will give its opinion on this issue” of independence, he said. “We have concluded that this should come as soon as possible.”

Montenegro is Serbia’s last remaining partner in the Yugoslav Federation after the collapse of the former communist federal state under the regime of indicted war crimes suspect and former president Slobodan Milosevic.

Djukanovic for the past few years has been calling for a referendum on independence for the republic, which has a population of 650,000 compared with Serbia’s 10 million.

But his proposal has met with opposition from Belgrade, the international community and many Montenegrins, who want ties with Serbia to be redefined while maintaining a federal Yugoslavia.

Kostunica met with Djukanovic, and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and his Montenegrin counterpart, Filip Vujanovic, Friday to discuss the republic’s future.

Djukanovic said that the two sides “agreed that there is no need to develop arguments any more, to waste time.”

“We should start with a procedure...of dialogue between the authorities and opposition in Montenegro in the weeks to come so we can then organize a referendum... to see what is the mood in Montenegro,” the president said.

He said the referendum would probably held “next spring”, after Montenegro’s ruling coalition and opposition parties conclude their dialogue on the issue.

Montenegro and Serbia formed the present Yugoslav Federation in 1992.

Instead of the federation, Montenegro has proposed to Serbia that they form a “union of two independent states”, but Belgrade has opposed this.

However, Kostunica said he was “more convinced” after Friday’s meeting that “even after the referendum, the joint state will survive”.

“There are two ways for preserving of Yugoslavia,” he said. “The shorter way is through talks on redefining the relations and the other one is longer and it is a referendum.”

Relations between Montenegro and Serbia deteriorated after the election of Djukanovic in 1998, with the reformist president gradually distancing the republic from Milosevic’s rule.

However since Milosevic’s ouster last October, Kostunica has launched an initiative to redefine relations between the two partners within the federation itself, but the attempts have so far been in vain.

Montenegro has replaced the Yugoslav dinar with the German mark and maintains its own foreign policy.

The Yugoslav army is the only federal institution still present in the tiny mountainous republic on the Adriatic coast.

Several earlier attempts to begin dialogue on the federation’s future failed when Djukanovic objected to the presence of federal government representatives.—AFP