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EU urges restraint in Montenegro

Bulatovic has questioned the validity of the election result  

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia -- A European Union party has arrived in Montenegro to urge the government not to rush into independence from Yugoslavia.

After narrowly winning Sunday's parliamentary election, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic pledged to push on with plans for holding a referendum on independence.

The EU and other members of the international community have expressed concern at the possibility that a break from the dominant republic of Serbia could provoke violence.

After talks with the EU mission, the pro-Yugoslavia faction's leader, Predrag Bulatovic, said they shared "the common stand" of opposing any planned referendum.

Bulatovic also said he had asked the delegation to support his request to be allowed to check voters' lists before deciding whether to accept the results.

"We have clear grounds to think there were certain irregularities but I don't want to announce a final judgement," said Bulatovic, head of the Socialist People's Party, the main party in the "Together for Yugoslavia" coalition.

The margin of victory was less than 5,000 votes and left Djukanovic's bloc with only two more seats in parliament than their opposition.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitored the vote, declared it largely free and fair, saying it was generally in line with international commitments for democratic elections.

The EU delegation, led by Swedish diplomat Sven-Olaf Petersson, will also meet Djukanovic, who has remained undeterred by the slight margin.

"The election results change nothing in our plans," said Miodrag Vukovic, an adviser to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic.

"The referendum will be held between June 30 and July 13."

In a statement issued on the eve of the EU delegation's visit, it urged the government to "resume the dialogue with Belgrade without delay," and conditioned further support on a successful outcome of such talks.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said: "The EU opposes any unilateral steps which could run contrary to the stability of the region."

The U.S. has echoed the call for a prompt start to negotiations on Montenegro's future in Yugoslavia.

UK Foreign Minister Robin Cook will meet Djukanovic on Wednesday as part of a two-day Balkan trip.

Yugoslavia's President Vojislav Kostunica said the strong showing by anti-independence voters had revived hopes that the Yugoslav federation would remain intact.

It had comprised six republics before it disintegrated in bloody Balkan wars in the early 1990s.

"The elections confirmed that the idea of a joint state of Montenegro and Serbia still lives," Kostunica said.

"The elections are a sign that ... we are getting closer to rational solutions, which will benefit us all."

Kostunica called for a political compromise between the opposing factions in Montenegro, the official Tanjug news agency reported.

"I see that the population is basically split," said Girard Stoudmann, a senior representative of the OSCE.

Under such circumstances a referendum "would not be wise," he added.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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