The detention of four westerners in Montenegro jpoc opinion

Two British police instructors, Adrian Pragnell and John Yore and two Canadians Shaun Going and Lian Hall are held by Yugoslav authorities who accuse them of spying and terrorism. Meanwhile, the governments in the West protest loudly.

I am not impressed by the reaction of the UK government to the arrest and detention of four westerners by the Yugoslav authorities in Montenegro.

Consider for a moment the agreed facts. Two British Police Officers and two Canadian technical experts were found in a car on a small mountain road close to the Montenegro border with Kosovo. Inside the car were detonators, wiring and other materials suitable for use in the demolition of buildings. The technical experts admit to expertise in the use of these materials and claim that they were just taking a short holiday in Montenegro and forgot to take the tools of their trade out of the car before they went.

OK, now imagine for one moment that we were talking about similar circumstances involving two Serb policemen and two Russian technical experts and the location was the mountainous area between Germany and Austria. Would we want the German authorities to smack them on the bottom and send them on their way with a flea in their ear? Or what if they were found having just entered the UK via the channel tunnel?

It seems to me that the Yugoslav authorities are acting prudently and reasonably in the circumstances. Remeber tbere is no suggestion that these men have been mistreated.

Now, beyond this, lies another matter which is exercising my mind. Why were the four men in Montenegro. Remember the facts that are agreed all round and then consider the claim of a holiday and forgetting to unload the explosives from the car.

If you were working in Kosovo and were given the opportunity of a few days holiday, would you choose to go to Montenegro? Last year, NATO was dropping bombs on Montenegro and a substantial minority of the population there support the Serbian cause. Also, the Yugoslav army has a very strong presence in Montenegro and they are known to be on alert for trouble from Western nations trying to help Montenegro to break away from the Yugoslav federation.

Does that sound like a great holiday destination or what? I can think of many better places to go in the Balkans.

Now, also, let's suppose that you really did decide to go there for a break. You can hardly be working in Kosovo and not be aware of the sensitivitites of the area. Also, you can hardly have a profession that involves working with explosives and not be aware of the need to be careful about where you take them. Even if you disregard the fact that somebody may mistake your intentions, driving around in a car loaded with bomb aking material must make you a tempting target for anyone who wants to get their hands on it.

So, to believe the holiday story, we must accept the extraordinary choice of destination the incredibly naive act of leaving the explosives in the car and the highly unprofessional lack of care for the stewardship of dangerous materials.

On the other had, we do know that the west would like Montenegro to be more detached from Serbia than is currently the case. We know that Western politicians have rattled their sabres at Milosevic over Montenegro. We know that, in similar situations, NATO special forces have entered enemy territory to act in an advisory and training role.

Is it any surprise that the Yugoslav army does not buy the dumb tourist story? Do you buy it?

If asked to rule "beyond reasonable doubt" I'd say there there is not enough evidence to convict the four men of terrorist intent but if asked to rule on the balance of probabilities, I'd say that I don't believe the inadvisable holiday story.

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