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Albright to ask Montenegro to reconsider election boycott
ROME -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is to ask Montenegro's president to reconsider a planned boycott of Yugoslavia's presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections scheduled for September.
Albright is due to meet Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic on Tuesday during a visit to Italy and she is expected to urge him to think carefully about the plan.
Montenegro's pro-Western ruling parties have said they will not take part in any ballot organized by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and will encourage their supporters not to vote in the elections.
The country has threatened to hold a referendum on secession if Milosevic ignores demands for reforms and greater equality within the Yugoslav federation -- a move the United States opposes for fear it could spark another Balkan war.
Opposition parties pledge to unite
Albright wants the opposition in Serbia, the larger partner in the federation, to take part in the elections. At the weekend, 15 opposition parties said they would unite to present a single challenger to Milosevic.
"We're generally concerned about what Milosevic may be up to," Albright told reporters aboard her plane.
"The fact that he re-jiggered the constitution in order to be able to have a more concentrated authoritarian power in what could be a phony election process, which affects Montenegro," was one thing she would discuss with Djukanovic, she said.
She is in Rome for talks with the Vatican about the Middle East peace process.
Montenegro may have key role
A senior State Department official said Montenegro could play a key role in helping Serbia's opposition to unite to challenge Milosevic.
He added: "Clearly a boycott is one issue he (Djukanovic) will have to decide carefully. Even if Milosevic is going to try to manipulate the whole process, it's a chance for people to show what they think."
The official said deciding whether to take part in the elections was a tough issue for Djukanovic since his position as leader of a republic also makes him Milosevic's strongest opponent.
The United States is not expecting him to run against Milosevic for the presidency, he added.
Milosevic wanted for trial
Milosevic is wanted for trial for alleged war crimes during his forces' actions against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo last year which prompted the West's 78-day bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.
Djukanovic is seen as a powerful ally not just by the U.S. but also by Serbian opposition leaders whose power bases are in cities.
Cut off from international aid by sanctions against Belgrade for its role in a series of Balkan wars, Djukanovic has tried to act independently of Serbia.
With options to support him limited, Albright said she discussed the need for Europe to give his republic more aid with European Union external affairs commissioner Chris Patten, who attended an Asian gathering with her last week.
She said the idea of getting aid from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was being discussed.
Key Serbian opposition figure Vuk Draskovic has also said he will boycott the elections though Serbian state television attacked him on Monday night, possibly indicating they feared he would join the rest of the Serbian opposition against Milosevic.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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U.S. State Department
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