So Long Yugoslavia: Montenegro Gains Independence

The small Balkan country Montenegro narrowly voted to split from Serbia and strike out on its own.

More than 86 percent of eligible Montenegrin voters turned out for the historic referendum, and 55.4 percent of the voters chose independence. The vote allows the tiny nation to apply for membership in the European Union.

"By the will of its citizens, Montenegro regained its independence," declared the Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic early this morning with supporters gathering in front of the main government building.

Waving the red and gold Montenegrin flag, supporters chanted "We have a state," "Montenegro Lives!" and "Milo! Milo!"

Montenegro, a tiny stretch of land along the Adriatic Sea, is the last of the former Yugoslavia's six federal republics to spilt from Serbia since 1991, following a series of bloody conflicts in the early 1990s. Montenegro's union with Serbia was established in 2003 with each side given the choice of opting out after three years.

"Montenegro is a new independent state and we will claim, as soon as possible, to become a new member of the U.N. and the European Union," said Djukanovic.

In early May, the European Union suspended its negotiations with Serbia-Montenegro because of repeated failures to arrest fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic, accused of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Now that it's striking out on its own, Montenegro hopes to renew the failed negotiations.

The European Union awaits a full report on the conduct of the referendum but acknowledged that poll returns passed the EU's recognition requirements. "We will fully respect the result of the referendum," said European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

While Montenegrin newspapers celebrated the result with headlines "Breakaway" and "It's Over," its neighbor Serbia was suspicious.

Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, was quoted as saying he would "not be surprised if someone today filed criminal charges" against the pollsters. "What they did was in the best tradition of separatist scenarios," he said, without explaining further.

Independence advocates deny any wrongdoing and firmly believe that freedom will lead to greater social and economic development and end what was an awkward union with Serbia.