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Slovenia Announces Legal Steps to Secede from Yugoslavia

February 8, 1991 GMT

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The rebel republic of Slovenia on Friday announced legal steps to secede from Yugoslavia and joined its pro-independence ally Croatia in boycotting talks to save the troubled Balkan federation.

The moves by the two non-Communist republics appeared to doom attempts to prevent Yugoslavia from disintegrating politically, and deepened the ethnic rifts that threaten to end in civil war.

The head of the federal presidency warned a stormy meeting of regional leaders that the body, as collective chief of state, had a constititional duty to take ″all measures at its disposal to prevent the onset of chaos.″

″We have a complete collapse of the country and the impossibility of reaching political agreement,″ said Borisav Jovic.

″We have to take those measures which are in our jurisdiction,″ he said in remarks reported by the Tanjug state news agency. ″If not, we should be replaced because we cannot be responsible for the situation.″

It was not clear what Jovic, who is an ethnic Serb, had in mind. But the federal presidency is the nominal commander of the armed forces.

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman refused Friday even to fly to Belgrade, capital of the nation and of Croatia’s rival Serbia, for the meeting - the third round of talks between leaders of Yugoslavia’s six fractious republics.

Tudjman was protesting an anti-Croatian rally staged by a Serbian women’s organization outside the building where the talks took place.

Slovenia’s representative, Milan Kucan, walked out of the talks, citing ″impossible conditions″ created by the rally of about 5,000 people, most of them women.

″Down with the Fascist Croatian leadership 3/8″ the crowd shouted. ″Long live the Yugoslav Army 3/8″

For the first time, Tanjug published excerpts from the closed-door talks, revealing that Kucan had a sharp clash with Serbia’s hard-line Communist President Slobodan Milosevic.

Milosevic argued that the talks should go on despite Tudjman’s absence, saying, ″The crisis is deepening day by day.″

″Such talks make no sense,″ Kucan retorted. ″Now, it is clear that there are no other real options″ for Slovenia but to secede and then start new talks on forming a loose association with like-minded republics, he added.

The first meeting of regional leaders occurred Jan. 10. Croatia and Slovenia quit the second round on Jan. 31 to protest what their leaders said was army meddling in politics.

A statement issued after Friday’s failed talks said ″no agreement could be reached,″ though a fourth round was set for Feb. 13.

Meanwhile in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s premier announced that on Feb. 20 the republic’s parliament would meet to pass a law annulling all federal legislation, thus formally proclaiming the republic’s secession.

The premier, Lojze Peterle, also said that Slovenia, which with Croatia advocates Yugoslavia’s transformation into a loose confederation, would now concentrate on how to secede peacefully rather than seek ways to stop the country of 24 million from disintegrating.

Communist-ruled Serbia has strongly opposed any plans to change the current federal system, with also includes two provinces, and is backed by the pro- Communist, heavily Serb commanders of the army.

Peterle said that after the Serbian elections in December, overwhelmingly won by the Communists, and a series of bilateral talks between republican leaders last month, ″It is obvious that the two concepts which are being offered are so far apart that a healthy society cannot be created.″

Peterle said Slovenia’s desire to secede is motivated mainly by economics, according to Tanjug.

The small northern republic bordering Austria and Italy is Yugoslavia’s richest, and objects to the Socialist central planning advocated by the Serbian leadership.

Last December, Serbia angered all other republics by unilaterally misappropriating $1.4 billion of federal reserve funds to meet pension and wage bills.

Croatia, meanwhile, is at loggerheads with the federal army. On Jan. 25, the republic’s militia and the army are said to have come within hours of a clash before Croatia agreed to disarm its reserve police force and the army rescinded a battle alert in the republic.

Both Croatia and Slovenia fear the federal army would intervene to squelch their independence drives, possibly under the pretext of protecting the 600,000-strong Serb minority in Croatia.

The Serbs in Croatia claim they are harassed by the republic’s authorities and have been in virtual rebellion since August.