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Resumption Of Fighting Seen Likely In Kosovo

November 12, 1998

Article from: The Washington Post
Article date: November 12, 1998
Author: Guy Dinmore

Yugoslav government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels appeared to be gearing up for another round of fighting in the troubled province of Kosovo today, even as the American head of an international observer mission appealed for restraint.

“This . . . might be the last, best chance to avert an irrational spiral of violence and human suffering,” William Walker, a U.S. career diplomat, said after arriving at the airport in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital.

Walker, whose diplomatic career has focused on Latin America, is to head a 2,000-member mission of unarmed diplomatic observers under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Kosovo Verification Mission will monitor Yugoslavia’s compliance with U.N. resolutions demanding an end to hostilities and free access to aid agencies delivering supplies to some 250,000 people, mostly of the Serbian province’s ethnic Albanian majority, displaced by the eight-month conflict.

Walker said he hopes the mission will create the conditions for a lasting negotiated settlement. Slobodan Milosevic, president of the Yugoslav federation, which is dominated by the republic of Serbia, agreed to the mission under a deal reached with U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke Oct. 13 that averted NATO airstrikes.

Milosevic also agreed to withdraw several thousand troops and Interior Ministry police, leaving behind a force of about 25,000 while U.S. mediator Christopher Hill, the American ambassador to Macedonia, works on achieving a political settlement between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians who have been fighting for Kosovo’s independence.

“I take this opportunity to encourage the political leaderships of all involved in this conflict to choose the way of moderation, the way of sanity, the way of peaceful resolution of differences,” Walker said. Armed fighters with the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, which was routed during a summer government offensive, have returned to many of their former strongholds in the wake of the government withdrawal. In the central Drenica region, 15 miles west of here, more than 100 Serbian police in combat gear today took up positions close to rebel-held territory they had left three weeks ago. Police said they were deploying in response to a string of raids by the Kosovo Liberation Army on now-isolated police stations and supply convoys that threaten to undermine a month-old unofficial cease-fire. Serbian officials said three police officers were wounded Tuesday night in guerrilla attacks on three towns in central Kosovo. The rebels, in turn, accused the security forces of provoking them with attacks on villages inhabited by ethnic Albanians. Kosovo Albanian human rights workers say police hauled 30 men off a bus in the central town of Glogovac today, following a nighttime rebel attack. “We are ready for attacks against us. There are groups of people out of everyone’s control,” said the commander of the police station in Malisevo, a former guerrilla stronghold. The post was attacked on Sunday night, and Monday morning police found the bodies of two colleagues who had been captured by the rebels last Friday and later killed. Police also resumed patrolling between Malisevo and Orahovac, in the south, today, moving through rebel-held territory. They were joined by unarmed U.S. diplomatic observers, hoping their presence would deter the guerrillas from attacking. Walker said he could not give a date for when the full mission of 2,000 observers will be in place. Diplomats have said they are frustrated with the OSCE’s slowness in assembling the observer force.

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