Montenegro and Serbia Discuss Loosening Yugoslav Federation

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Key talks on Montenegro's proposal to change centralized Serb-led Yugoslavia with a loose two-state confederation opened in Belgrade on Wednesday.

The failure of the series of such talks between officials of Montenegro's and Serbia's ruling parties could lead to a referendum on independence in Montenegro and, some fear, civil war.

Yugoslavia is made up of dominant Serbia and small Montenegro, which has increasingly been seeking more autonomy or outright independence.

Montenegro's pro-Western leaders are frustrated with the autocratic policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, which have led to Balkan bloodshed and economic decline in Yugoslavia.

"We came here to feel the pulse of the Serbian parties," said the head of the Montenegrin delegation, Zeljko Sturanovic, at the start of the meetings in the federal parliament. A second round of talks is expected in Montenegro.

Montenegro's ruling three-party coalition has failed to agree on concrete points of their proposal, with two coalition members seeking Montenegro's virtual independence in an informal confederation and one leaning more toward the republic's autonomy within a loose Yugoslav union.

Montenegro's reformist President Milo Djukanovic said on Bosnian Serb TV that he hopes Serbia will take Montenegro's proposal seriously. Failing that, he said, Montenegro "will alone know how to organize its life ... on the eve of the 21st century."