Montenegro accuses ethnic Albanians of plotting insurgency

PODGORICA -- Montenegrin authorities indicted 18 ethnic Albanians, including five living in the United States.

The 18 individuals were indicted for allegedly plotting an insurgency to carve out an autonomous region in Montenegro.

The criminal charges were filed after 14 of the people were arrested on the eve of Montenegro's general elections three months ago, when they allegedly planned a series of "terrorist attacks," prosecutor Stojanka Radović said.

Two U.S.-based members of the group, Vaselj Dedvukaj and Doda Ljucaj from the state of Michigan, are accused of funding the group, which allegedly intended to "use explosives and weapons for terrorist acts aimed at controlling ... military posts, police precincts and other important facilities" in an ethnic Albanian-populated eastern part of Montenegro.

A defense lawyer for the suspects, Rajko Božović, said the "charges were unfounded."

Last month, four of the suspects were released pending trial, but 10 others remain in custody. They have accused the police of beating them during and after the arrest.

Among the five who allegedly came from the United States and helped arm the group with rifles, hand grenades and to rocket-propelled grenade launchers, two are on the run, Radović said.

"They illegally brought into Montenegro a large amount of various weaponry, ammunition, explosives" and hid them in caves in the eastern region known as Malesija, according to the prosecutor.

"Their intention was to use force to achieve a special status for the region populated by (ethnic) Albanians ... contrary to the constitution" of Montenegro, Radović said.

If convicted, the suspects face up to 15 years in jail each. No trial date has been set.

About 7 percent of Montenegro's 620,000 people are ethnic Albanian, a minority that generally has good relations with the government and has long had their lawmakers in the nation's parliament.

Unlike their fellow-ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province, the Montenegrin Albanians have not formed a separatist movement or disputed Montenegrin government rule in the past.

Montenegro became independent in June by splitting from much larger Serbia.