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U.S. Envoy Supports Albanian Leader

July 6, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ U.S. and Russian envoys urged Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian politicians Sunday to rally behind moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova, insisting he is the best choice to speak for the province’s embattled Albanian majority.

Richard Holbrooke and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasyevsky drove that message home during talks throughout the day with Rugova and representatives of all 16 ethnic Albanian political parties.

Absent from the meetings were representatives of the militant Kosovo Liberation Army, which is fighting for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, the largest of two remaining republics in Yugoslavia. Hundreds of people have been killed in Kosovo since a Serb police crackdown in February.

Holbrooke, nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been shuttling between Kosovo’s capital of Pristina and the Yugoslav capital Belgrade since Friday. He is trying to convince all ethnic Albanian factions _ including the KLA _ to accept Rugova’s leadership.

The KLA has so far refused, and it was unclear whether Holbrooke’s latest effort had narrowed the differences within the ethnic Albanian community.

``Rugova himself is going to continue to seek a broader base for his goal, which is a negotiated peaceful settlement to the Kosovo problem,″ Holbrooke said before returning to Belgrade on Sunday for a meeting with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

After that meeting, Holbrooke told reporters that the past three days in the region had been ``very useful in clarifying many issues.″

``I’m not going to say it’s making progress because that would mislead you,″ he said. ``But it’s certainly not a failure.″

Afanasyevsky also urged support for Rugova and repeated Moscow’s refusal to talk directly with the KLA, which Russia and Serbia have labeled a terrorist organization.

Russia sees no reason to negotiate with those who ``kill citizens who are loyal to Serbia,″ Afansyevsky said.

The goal of U.S. and Russian mediation is to help Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians speak with a single voice in negotiations with Milosevic over the future of the province.

Milosevic has expressed willingness to restore the autonomy for Kosovo he canceled in 1989. While Rugova and others are demanding full independence, Rugova is considered the more acceptable negotiating partner because he opposes violence.

``Serbia is ready for a dialogue to solve the Kosovo problem″ on the condition it doesn’t harm Serbs living in the province, Vojislav Zivkovic, a member of Milosevic’s party, told state-run Radio Belgrade Sunday.

The Serb crackdown has undercut Rugova’s moderate appeal. The German news magazine Spiegel quoted KLA spokesman Jakub Krasniqi as saying his organization would never accept Rugova as a leader because nonviolence had failed to gain independence or halt the crackdown.

The Serb Media Center reported ethnic Albanian militants attacked Serb police and villagers in two separate incidents in northwest Kosovo on Sunday. Militants also kidnapped three Serb civilians late Saturday from villages southwest of Pristina, the center said.

Meanwhile, officials close to Rugovo claimed that fighting had flared up again in a strategic mining region that saw heavy fighting last week. It was not possible to confirm the Serb or ethnic Albanian reports independently.

As part of the diplomatic effort to curb the crisis, Belgrade-based diplomats from the United States, Russia, Poland and the European Union are to visit flashpoints in Kosovo on Monday.

Milosevic approved the visits last month under an agreement with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who was seeking to discourage NATO military action against Serb security forces.

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