Montenegro declares Serbian ambassador persona non grata

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro’s outgoing pro-Western government declared the ambassador of neighboring Serbia persona non grata Saturday, reflecting a spike in tensions days before the planned inauguration of a new, pro-Serb government in Montenegro.

The small Balkan nation’s Foreign Ministry cited “long and continuous meddling in the internal affairs of Montenegro” as the reason for the action and asked Serbian Ambassador Vladimir Bozovic to leave the country.

Serbia’s Foreign Ministry said later Saturday it responded in a “reciprocal manner.” State-run media reported that Montenegrin Ambassador Tarzan Milosevic was asked to leave Serbia within 72 hours.

The diplomatic incident adds to already tense relations between the two Balkan states that were part of a joint country before an independence referendum in 2006 led to Montenegro splitting off.

Montenegro remains deeply divided among those seeking closer ties with traditional Slavic allies Serbia and Russia, and those who view Montenegro as an independent state allied with the West.

The long-ruling pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists was defeated in an August election by a pro-Serb coalition whose government is set to be voted into office during a parliament session next week. The DPS-led government defied Serbia and Russia to join NATO in 2017.

The outgoing authorities have accused Serbia of aiding pro-Serb political forces in Montenegro with the goal of installing allies in power and regaining influence.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement asserted that Ambassador Bozovic “directly disrespected” Montenegro by describing an 1918 decision to join a Serbia-dominated kingdom as an act “liberation” and “free will” by the Montenegrin people. Montenegro’s parliament declared the century-old decision void in 2018, saying it had stripped Montenegro of its sovereignty.

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