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news 17 Oct 17

Church Offer to Guarantee Coup Suspects Divides Montenegro

An offer by the Serbian Orthodox Church to accommodate Serbs charged in the coup plot, if they are released from custody, has drawn a mixed reaction in Montenegro.

Dusica Tomovic
 Photo: mitropolija.me

Podgorica Higher Court is expected to decide this week on a request to release three Serbian citizens accused in the coup case, after the Serbian Orthodox Church offered guarantees for their safety and availability to the court.

The court on Monday did not comment on the offer. However, it confirmed that a request to end detention for the accused, together with guarantees that they will not leave the country while their trial continues, had been filed on Friday.

Dragan Maksic, Srboljub Djordjevic and Milan Dusic are among 14 Russian, Serbian and Montenegrin citizens standing trial for alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the pro-Western government in October last year.

Reportedly, if the court frees them, they will be placed in one of the Church's monasteries in Montenegro.

It is the first time that the influential Serbian Church, the main faith group in the country, has intervened in such important state and judicial affairs, offering guarantees for suspects, and its move has divided the public.

Some legal experts see nothing controversial in the offer to provide accommodation for the defendants, or in the guarantee that they will remain available to the court in the process.

However, the Liberal Party, a member of the ruling coalition, called the offer a "scandalous" attempt by the Church to interfere in a major trial. "It presents a dangerous clericalization of the state," the party said on Monday.

Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, the Russian military intelligence service officers, 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, including two opposition leaders, 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 that 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's party won another election.

Russia has denied all involvement in the alleged plot, although Moscow supports the Democratic Front and other opposition groups which opposed NATO membership and still 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, although nothing has happened so far.

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