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Albanians Split Over Independence

October 21, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The goal among Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians is virtually unanimous _ independence from Serbian rule. But each exploding shell and uprooted family is widening the split on how best to achieve it: through war or politics.

Many favor leader Ibrahim Rugova’s push for a political settlement, a nonviolent approach that has won international plaudits but no real progress in eight years.

Increasingly, though, there is a shift toward the Kosovo Liberation Army and its armed rebellion against Yugoslav and Serb forces.

Until the division is resolved, diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict at a bargaining table are unlikely to succeed.

``To combine the two ways, political and military, that is what we must do,″ said Rrahman Pacarizi, a university teacher with relatives throughout Kosovo.

At issue is adherence by ethnic Albanians to an agreement negotiated without their participation _ the deal struck last week by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

It calls for, among other things, an end to hostilities, withdrawal of troops Milosevic sent to Kosovo beginning in February, and the start of talks aimed at giving ethnic Albanians self-government and their own police.

Ethnic Albanians make up 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million people, and many are losing hope that NATO will carry through on its threat of airstrikes if Milosevic fails to comply.

Some now consider the KLA to be their best chance for freedom _ especially with world leaders reiterating opposition to full independence for Kosovo, fearful of more fighting in the Balkans.

Pacarizi said the Serb offensive has divided his family: his mother and brother are in one village, his father is in another and a second brother is in their home village of Dragobilje.

``The KLA is the only hope for them. They feel like that,″ he said.

But from his perspective in Pristina, Kosovo’s so-far peaceful capital, he’s not sure.

``The only way I can see is if Rugova and the KLA unify, if they can work together,″ he said Wednesday.

That appears unlikely now, according to political analyst and freelance journalist Belul Beqaj. He said the KLA doubts Rugova’s commitment to full independence, ``and that is the root of their division.″

He traced the split to the massacre of about 30 members of the Jashari family in March _ including KLA leader Adem Jashari _ which gave new momentum to the rebel group.

The outmanned and outgunned KLA was routed on the battlefield this summer and saw its cause further damaged when Holbrooke reached an agreement with Milosevic on Oct. 12 after a week of negotiations.

But there still is no peace in Kosovo: the KLA has resumed hit-and-run attacks on Serb police, and the KLA accuses the Serbs of shelling and attacking villagers.

Western powers condemned the guerrillas’ renewed activity.

``If they don’t want to be killed anymore,″ U.S. Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said, ``they should tell their leaders to knock this stuff off, to abide by the agreement, and to ... try to work out a political arrangement.″

But ethnic Albanians want independence, and emotions are strongest in the villages and farmlands that have borne the brunt of the Serb offensive.

``For eight or nine years, we waited to resolve the problem by peaceful means,″ said Ismet Nuha, 41, who sleeps in the woods near his village of Kisna Reka. ``When it wasn’t, the KLA showed up.″

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