PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro will follow through with its decision to expel the Serbian ambassador, the country’s foreign ministry said on Monday, despite a call from the European Union to reverse it.
Just days before the inauguration of a new, pro-Serbian government, Montenegro’s outgoing cabinet on Saturday proclaimed the Serbian diplomat persona non grata, citing his “long and continuous meddling in the internal affairs of Montenegro.”
Serbia initially reacted by ordering the Montenegrin ambassador to leave the country, but on Sunday went back on its decision.
The EU enlargement commissioner, Oliver Varhelyi, has called on Montenegro to do the same, saying “respect for good neighborly relations and regional cooperation are cornerstones of EU enlargement.”
But Montenegro’s foreign ministry chided Varhelyi for offering advice before having full knowledge of what led to the country’s decision.
“Unfortunately, Commissioner Varhelyi has, before making the suggestion, failed to consult with partners and friends in Montenegro’’ about the basic information that led to the expulsion of the Serbian ambassador, the ministry said in a statement.
Montenegro, the small Adriatic state of some 620,000 people, is considered the first in line of all the Western Balkan states to join the EU. Although also formally seeking the membership, much bigger Serbia has been forging close political, economic and military ties with China and Russia.
The diplomatic incident added to already tense relations between Montenegro and Serbia that were part of one 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 take office this 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.
This story corrects the spelling of the last name of the EU official to Varhelyi.