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Serbia ignores plea to end crisis

March 7, 1998

Kosovo: Serbia ignores plea to end crisis
By Guy Dinmore in Belgrade, John Thornhill in Moscow and Ralph Atkins in

Serbian security forces yesterday pursued their offensive in central Kosovo against suspected strongholds of ethnic Albanian rebels, as the leading powers struggled to concentrate diplomatic pressure on Belgrade.
Serbia’s ruling Socialist party, led by Slobodan Milosevic, the federal Yugoslav president, dismissed as “nonsense” threats of sanctions or outside military intervention. Ministers of the Contact Group, formed to

deal with Bosnia and composed of the US, Russia, Britain, Germany,France and Italy, will tackle the Kosovo crisis in London on Monday.

Robin Cook, UK foreign secretary, said it would impress on Mr Milosevic “the need for an immediate end to repressive action” by “bringing to bear the concerted weight of the Americans, Russians and key Europeans”.
But the latest assault in Kosovo began on Thursday just as Mr Cook delivered a protest to Mr Milosevic in Belgrade. Yesterday tank and automatic weapons fire could be heard around the village of Lausa about
25 miles west of Pristina, the provincial capital of Kosovo. Most of its Albanian population had fled to the nearby town of Srbica, joining several thousand refugees collecting there since Thursday.

In contrast to the US, which has threatened force if Serb repression in Kosovo does not end, Russia, with its traditional ties to fellow Orthodox Serbs, yesterday stressed that threats of force or extra sanctions against Belgrade were “unacceptable”. Underlining its disapproval of western policy, Moscow said it would only send a deputy foreign minister to the London meeting, where the five western countries will all be represented by their foreign ministers.

Klaus Kinkel, German’s foreign minister, called yesterday for the Security Council’s immediate involvement, warning the “highly explosive” conflict was “putting at stake peace and stability across the entire
region”. He said Albanian terrorists had to be “starved of resources” by securing the border with Albania against weapon smuggling. But at the same time “Belgrade must know that the return ticket to Europe depends on their behaviour over the Kosovo question”. However, Mr Kinkel stopped well short of mentioning the possibility of use of force by the US, underlining Bonn’s unease about such a threat.

Mr Milosevic insists that Kosovo is Serbia’s internal issue but diplomats in Belgrade believe he will try to negotiate a political settlement, possibly with foreign mediation, once his security forces have eradicated bases of the Kosovo Liberation Army. The greatest fear of western governments is that the conflict will spiral out of control before Mr Milosevic is ready to talk. Albania yesterday put its small army on alert along the border with Serbia.

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