Montenegro Albanians Closer to Regaining Municipality

The assembly of the capital is pushing an initiative to grant a mainly Albanian-inhabited area municipal status - after an Albanian party warned it might boycott the presidential election.

The assembly of Podgorica on Thursday agreed to allow residents of Tuzi, a mainly ethnic Albanian area near the city, to vote in a consultative referendum this summer or autumn on forming an independent municipality.

Residents of this area already enjoy limited powers of self-government, but Tuzi still forms part of the City of Podgorica.

The move comes after the Civic Initiative, an Albanian party that supports the Montenegrin government, on Wednesday said it would urge ethnic Albanians to boycott the presidential election on April 7 if a date for the referendum was not set soon.

Party officials Malik Cumuljaj and Vasel Sinistaj told state leaders in a letter that an election boycott might affect delicate negotiations with the EU, which Montenegro hopes to join.

“It would have a negative impact on the continuing accession negotiations between the EU and Montenegro, since it would be the first time that Albanians… boycotted an election in independent Montenegro,” they wrote.

The Tuzi area, also known as Malesia, stretches up to the border with Albania, comprising more than 17 per cent of Podgorica’s territory. Historically, it was an independent municipality, but it lost this status in 1957.

The demand for Tuzi to become a municipality again has been a priority issue for Albanians who make up about 5 per cent of the population of Montenegro.

Milo Djukanovic, the Prime Minister, earlier promised that a local consultative referendum on municipal status for Tuzi would be held before the October 2012 general election.

By law, before organizing a referendum, the Interior Ministry needs to give its consent on the basis of a previously produced feasibility study.