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Kosovo: Milosevic tells EU offensive has ended

July 31, 1998

By Guy Dinmore in Belgrade, FT

Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, told European Union envoys on Thursday that government forces had ended their latest offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels in Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo. Mr Milosevic also said government forces had no intention of shelling the village of Junik, close to the border with Albania, where hundreds of civilians and rebels of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are surrounded

“The European Union will hold the president to his assurances,” said Emyr Jones-Perry, a British official.
Albert Rohan, an Austrian diplomat who headed the three-member EU delegation, accused the army and police of using “excessive force” in the week-long operation.

“Milosevic assured us that the military action has come to a halt,” Mr Rohan said after the delegation’s talks in Belgrade.

Serbian state television reported that Mr Milosevic had urged the EU to lift its political and economic sanctions against Yugoslavia.

The latest offensive has sent tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians fleeing from their homes. Many are living out in the open with little food. Several babies have been born, and Kosovo Albanian officials accuse the Serbian police of blocking aid deliveries.

“What has been created is literally a wasteland,” said a German diplomat, Wolfgang Ischinger. The five-month conflict has displaced about 150,000 people, including several thousand Serbs, and risks dragging in neighbouring Albania and Macedonia.

The fighting in Kosovo appears to have died down, but it is not clear if government forces will be able to secure their gains. Police said KLA rebels had re-established a roadblock near Malisevo, a stronghold they abandoned on Tuesday.

Diplomatic efforts, led by the US ambassador, Chris Hill, are focused on forming a Kosovo Albanian negotiating team that would restart talks with Mr Milosevic with the immediate aim of securing a ceasefire and returning refugees to their homes.

The new line-up, which has yet to be approved by the fractious KLA, is expected to be headed by Mehmet Hajrizi, a former Marxist and political prisoner who is seeking to shunt aside Ibrahim Rugova, the more moderate leader re-elected in March as “president” of the Kosovo Albanian majority.

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