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news 09 Oct 17

Montenegro Coup Defendant Slates 'Rigged Anti-Serbian' Trial

A Montenegro opposition leader, Milan Knezevic, on Monday pleaded not guilty to charges of involvement in a failed coup attempt, telling the court it was a 'rigged process against the Serbs'.

Dusica Tomovic
The Democratic Front's leaders Milan Knezevic and Andrija Mandic denied involvement in the alleged coup attempt. Photo. DF.

Montenegro opposition leader Milan Knezevic on Monday pleaded not guilty to charges of plotting a coup, and told the court in Podgorica that he was only there because he was a Serb who opposed Montenegro's membership of NATO.

Knezevic, one of the leaders of the strongest opposition alliance, the Democratic Front, is one of 14 Russian, Serbian and Montenegrin citizens facing trial for alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the pro-Western government in October last year.

Knezevic appeared in court wearing Russian military symbols which he said he had received during a visit to Moscow at the ceremony marking Russian Victory Day in World War II.

Serbian politician Milan Stamatovic in Monday said that Montenegro’s prosecutor was “brutally lying” when he said that agents of the Russian military intelligence, GRU, were planning the failed Montenegrin coup in Serbia’s Zlatibor mountain, where Stamatovic is head of local government.

His reaction came one week after Montenegro’s special prosecutor Milivoj Katnic said that a group of GRU agents was preparing the last year’s failed October 16 coup on Zlatibor, without further explanation.

Stamatovic said in a press release on Monday that Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party is leading an “anti-Serbian” policy by supporting the “dictatorship of NATO regime in Podgorica”.

“Official Belgrade with Aleksandar Vucic at the helm supported and participated in Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic’s farce over the fake ‘coup’, by working against the interests of Russia, the only true friend of the Serbian nation,” Stamatovic said.

Knezevic said he would only recognize “the court of the people and his party" and so would not answer questions from the special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic, accusing him of “leaking information through the media" before the indictment was filed.

“I do not recognize this court. This is a politically mounted process against the Serbs. Only Serbs are on the bench today and the hunt against them has started," Knezevic said.

He reiterated the position of his counterpart, Andrija Mandic, another Front leader also on trial, that the case was created in order to prevent a referendum from taking place on Montenegro's membership of NATO, which the opposition parties had opposed.

He said he was in court “because I am a Serb and against NATO ... This fake coup was created to pull Montenegro into NATO without a referendum," he said.

Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, Russian military intelligence service offiers, are accused of being behind a network of Serbian and Montenegrin citizens who planned to assassinate then Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic last October.

Twelve others accused, including Mandic and Knezevic, are charged with "criminal association" with a view to "committing terrorist acts" and undermining the constitutional order. They face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.

Bratislav Dikic, the former commander of an elite Serbian police unit, the Gendarmerie, is also among the indictees. He was arrested in Montenegro in October.

The prosecution has said it believes that “Russian state bodies” were involved in the alleged coup attempt.

However, the opposition in Montenegro and some anti-government media outlets continue to claim that the coup was staged by the authorities to ensure Djukanovic won another election.

Russia has denied involvement in the alleged plot, although Moscow supports the Democratic Front and other opposition groups which oppose NATO membership and champion closer ties to the Kremlin.

Russia strongly objected to Montenegro joining NATO, and threatened unspecified retaliation after the country joined the Western military alliance in June.

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