Serbia's Government Recognizes Independent Montenegro

The Serbian government recognized newly independent Montenegro on Thursday, and said it would establish diplomatic ties with its former partner in the now defunct Serbia-Montenegro union.

The tiny Balkan republic declared independence from Serbia on June 3, after its citizens supported the split by a slim margin in a May 21 referendum.

Serbia had opposed the separation and initially disputed the results of Montenegro's referendum, fueling fears of tension between the two nations.

The formal establishment of diplomatic relations will take place during a visit to Belgrade by Montenegro's foreign minister, Miodrag Vlahovic, sometime next week, the Serbian Foreign Ministry said.

The two republics share close historic and cultural ties. The separation brought a formal end to the last union leftover from the splintered Yugoslavia.

Relations between the two are considered crucial for the stability of the Balkan region, which had been the scene of four ethnic wars following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

"Conditions have been created for the government of Serbia ... to recognize the Republic of Montenegro and establish diplomatic ties," which would "help contribute to developing friendly and good neighborly relations," the Serbian government said in a statement.

Montenegro's proclamation formally ended the Serbia-Montenegro union, the last shred of what was once Yugoslavia, following years of crisis in the Balkans that began when the federation of six republics disintegrated in violence in the 1990s.

Serbia opposed previous declarations of independence by Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, triggering nearly a decade of wars.

Montenegro was an independent kingdom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it abandoned its statehood to join a new Serb-led Balkan union in 1918.

Montenegro, with 620,000 people, was the only republic to stay with Serbia, but it gradually edged toward independence during the autocratic rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died earlier this year while on trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal for his part in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.