U.S. Envoy Arrives in Kosovo
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke ended a round of crisis talks with Yugoslavia’s president early today in a last-ditch effort to reach a diplomatic solution in Kosovo and avoid NATO airstrikes.
Holbrooke arrived in the Kosovo capital Pristina later this morning for talks with the main ethnic Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova. He was accompanied by British Ambassador to Yugoslavia Brian Donnelly.
It was the first time the U.S. envoy was known to have included another top Western diplomat in his negotiating effort, and Holbrooke said Donnelly’s presence in Pristina was meant to show a united front between the United States and the European Union.
Holbrooke returns for more talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic after the trip.
The American envoy would not say whether he had made progress in persuading Milosevic to accept international demands for ending the crackdown in Kosovo, but said an agreement was still not within reach.
``We are in a very grim situation, and everybody knows how serious it is. We are not anywhere near a point where everyone can be satisfied on either side,″ Holbrooke said today in Belgrade after more than six hours of talks that ended well past midnight.
Upon arrival in Pristina, Holbrooke went straight to the U.S. center, where he was awaited by three Albanian negotiators _ Fehmi Agani, Iljaz Kurtesi and Edita Tahiri.
He made no comment. A key international demand is a resumption of talks between the ethnic Albanians and the Milosevic-led government.
The ethnic Albanians have refused to meet government officials until Milosevic halts a seven-month crackdown in the province.
Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands have been driven from their homes since Milosevic began the crackdown on Feb. 28 against the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, which is fighting to wrest Kosovo province from Serbia, the main republic of Yugoslavia.
About 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million inhabitants are ethnic Albanians, and most favor independence.
Milosevic has defied U.N. orders to withdraw substantial forces from the province, maintaining they are needed to prevent new attacks by the KLA.
After the first round of talks Friday, he called NATO threats of airstrikes ``belligerent attempts″ to solve the Kosovo problem, adding that he favors negotiations.
Holbrooke arrived from London, where he met with officials of major powers that are involved in the negotiations. He said that movement toward authorizing the use of force by NATO continues ``in a sustained and intense manner.″
Still, NATO remained divided about the legality and effectiveness of using force against the Serbs.
Italy and Greece, among others, are reluctant to proceed without a mandate from the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China are opposed.
In Pristina, cafes were full, with people appearing to make the most of what could be the last few days of relative peace.
``I am not afraid,″ said Jehona Xhaferi, 25, an ethnic Albanian. ``Maybe that’s crazy, but I see it as the finishing phase of everything,″ she said, alluding to the months of Kosovo turmoil.
The international demands Holbrooke presented to Milosevic included an immediate end to hostilities and a withdrawal of forces and heavy armaments to the levels they were at before the crackdown.
In addition, Holbrooke was expected to press for the establishment of an international monitoring force to oversee compliance. State Department spokesman James Foley said Holbrooke described discussions so far as ``very intense and tough going.″
The KLA announced a unilateral cease-fire throughout Kosovo starting Friday, a move that will add pressure on Milosevic to reciprocate.
Serbian media reported at least five KLA breaches of their cease-fire Friday. The KLA, in a statement read on state television in neighboring Albania, said it was government troops who were on the offensive.
The claims of renewed skirmishes could not be independently verified but Foley said the absence of fighting did not mean peace.
``While there has been no shooting in the past 24 hours, neither has there been any measurable change in the Serbian deployment of army troops in the field,″ Foley said.