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The coming of the micro-states

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As goes Montenegro, so goes Kosovo, Transdniestria, and South Ossetia?

As Montenegro officially declared independence this weekend, accepting the world's welcome into the community of nations, a handful of obscure "statelets" are demanding the same opportunity to choose their own destinies.

In the latest example, Transdniestria, a Russian-speaking enclave that won de facto independence in the early 1990s, declared last week that it will hold a Montenegro-style referendum in September as part of its campaign for statehood.

Experts fear that many "frozen conflicts" around the world - in which a territory has gained de facto independence through war but failed to win international recognition - could reignite as ethnic minorities demand the same right to self-determination that many former Yugoslav territories have been offered by the international community.

Even more significant than Montenegro's rise to statehood would be the international community's acceptance of Kosovo's bid for independence. The province of Serbia was seized by NATO in 1999. Ongoing talks discussing that possibility are being watched with intense interest by rebel statelets. But as tiny, newly independent states such as East Timor find themselves mired in ethnic violence, international observers are wary of the implications of such a move.

"If Kosovo becomes independent, this precedent will cause further fragmentation of the global order and lead to the creation of more unviable little states," predicts Dmitri Suslov, an analyst with the independent Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow.

Russia has backed the emergence of several pro-Moscow separatist enclaves in the post-Soviet region, as a means of keeping pressure on defiant neighbors, but has so far been deterred from granting them official recognition by international strictures against changing the borders of existing states. Montenegro's successful May 21 vote of independence from Yugoslavia - recognized by the world community - has encouraged others' thoughts of following the same path.

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