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U.S. Envoy, Kosovo Rebels Talk

November 7, 1998

Article from: The Washington Post
Article date: November 7, 1998
Author: Guy Dinmore

U.S. mediator Christopher Hill held urgent talks with separatist ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo today as renewed clashes with government forces threatened to undermine attempts to reach a political settlement to the conflict in the southern Serbian province.

Hill met Jakup Krasniqi, a spokesman for the independence-minded Kosovo Liberation Army, in the southwestern village of Dragobilje, where U.S. diplomatic observers have been based for more than a week while negotiating with local rebel commanders.Diplomats said they fear a recent surge in violence might shatter a shaky cease-fire in place for the last month as well as the agreement reached on Oct. 13 between U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that averted the threat of NATO airstrikes.

Serbia, along with the smaller republic of Montenegro, constitute what remains of the Yugoslav federation. Serbian officials today said the Kosovo Liberation Army attacked a police patrol near the southern village of Opterusa and that five rebels were killed. It was the latest of several incidents in which the two sides have accused each other of initiating attacks.

In his deal with Holbrooke, Milosevic agreed to a substantial withdrawal of security forces and a stringent verification mission to be carried out by NATO reconnaissance aircraft and 2,000 foreign observers. Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, was left with the tougher task of getting agreement on an interim peace plan that would give substantial autonomy to Kosovo and its ethnic Albanian majority, but not the independence that the Kosovo Liberation Army — and many ethnic Albanian civilians — demand. Krasniqi said the two men had held a “very fruitful discussion” and that talks would continue.

A U.S. source said Hill reminded the Kosovo Liberation Army of the importance of maintaining the cease-fire and urged the rebels to put a halt to a spate of abductions. They recently detained two Serbian journalists and two officials of the province’s main ethnic Albanian political party, headed by Ibrahim Rugova. Diplomatic observers in Kosovo said government forces and the rebels are in breach of U.N. resolutions calling for an end to hostilities and a complex deal negotiated in Belgrade by U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO’s supreme commander, that allows the Serbs to maintain 25,000 troops and police in Kosovo in specific locations. Serbian police have dismantled static checkpoints but are deploying mobile armored units that stop civilians on main roads while evading Western observers. Police also are patrolling more aggressively in areas populated entirely by ethnic Albanians that are known to be rebel strongholds. Throughout the central Drenica region, Serbian police officers in now isolated outposts, as well as commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army and a rival guerrilla group, all convey the same message — that time is running out. “The people are still afraid to go back to their ruined homes,” said a man who identified himself as Plaku, a guerrilla commander in the Malisevo area. “This regime has used all its forces to burn and kill. How can we live with this regime anymore? I don’t believe this cease-fire can last long.” The latest draft of the U.S. peace plan was presented to Albanian political parties in Pristina, the Kosovo capital, last Sunday and to Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, a close ally of Milosevic, in Belgrade the next day. “It’s more acceptable to the Albanian side but does not fulfill all our requests,” commented Fehmi Agani, coordinator of the official Albanian negotiating team. “Some things are not defined — are we or are we not in Serbia?”

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