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Government Warns Slovenia About Secession Referendum

December 19, 1990 GMT

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The government and the army today said Slovenia will be taking a great risk if voters in Yugoslavia’s most prosperous republic choose this weekend to declare independence from the country.

The deputy defense minister, Admiral Stene Brovet, told the federal Parliament that the army was ready to ″act in accordance with the Yugoslav Constitution″ and those in Slovenia who ″think differently, are wrong.″

The government on Tuesday rejected the Slovenian referendum and said it would take unspecified steps to preserve the country’s unity. There were fears of army intervention, but Slovenian officials said the federal government has assured them that the military would not stop the vote Sunday.

The leading Slovenian daily Delo today challenged the federal authorities.

″Do (officials) in Belgrade think they can halt Slovenia’s independence, or do they simply want to accelerate our departure from Yugoslavia?″ it asked in a commentary.

With Sunday’s referendum approaching, ″the old federation is counting its last hours,″ the paper said. The federation of six republics and two provinces has been in existence since 1945.

Justice Minister Vlado Kambovski today told Parliament the central government was ″warning state organs of Slovenia about the great responsibility and the risk they are assuming″ if they unilaterally step out of the federation.

The government will ″undertake energetic steps to protect reforms and objective, common interests of all peoples and nationalities″ in Yugoslavia, Kambovski said without elaboration.

His comments were reported by the state news agency Tanjug.

The Parliament ended its session with the demand that Slovenia reconsider holding the referendum ″because of its consequences.″

Prosperous Slovenia, governed by a center-right coalition since spring, wants more independence from central authorities. Slovenia is backed by Croatia, where Communists were also ousted by center-right parties in spring elections. They want Yugoslavia transformed into a loose confederation.

Serbia, the largest Yugoslav republic, where Communists scored a victory in recent elections, wants Yugoslavia to remain a federation with a strong, centralized government.

The differences have led to a deepening rift among the republics and strained their relations with the federation, pushing the Balkan nation to the edge of disintegration.