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Russians Meet With Milosevic

October 5, 1998

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Russian envoys have warned President Slobodan Milosevic that NATO may launch airstrikes unless he takes ``decisive measures″ to end the humanitarian crisis in the southern province of Kosovo.

Fearing any airstrikes, Yugoslav generals put the nation’s air defense on high alert, but tried a belated compromise by moving some tanks and other heavy equipment out of Kosovo. A Western diplomat said up to 120 Yugoslav army armored vehicles, including tanks, have been pulled out.

Milosevic met Sunday with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and Yugoslavia’s top defense officials.

The Russians are against using NATO force in Kosovo. However, Ivanov and Sergeyev said the airstrikes could occur ``if decisive measures are not immediately taken for a radical improvement of the situation,″ Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told the ITAR-Tass news agency.

To avoid such an attack, Yugoslavia must end the hostilities, withdraw army and security forces, take urgent neasures to overcome the humanitarian crisis, ensure that refugees can return home and take part in peace talks, he said.

Richard Holbrooke, President Clinton’s nominee as ambassador to the United Nations and the architect of the Bosnian peace accord, was expected to deliver a similar message when he meets Milosevic later today.

The United Nations has demanded that Yugoslavia halt its assault on ethnic Albanians and NATO has threatened airstrikes.

In Berlin, German Gen. Dieter Stockmann told German radio that NATO action could come ``within days.″

NATO’s decision may depend on a report U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is scheduled to present to the Security Council today on whether Yugoslavia is meeting U.N. demands.

Serb authorities appeared ready for compromise by installing an interim government in the rebellious province in Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia.

Serbian police and the Yugoslav army have routed separatist Kosovo Albanian rebels in the crackdown that began in late February. The conflict has killed hundreds _ most of them Albanian civilians _ and left more than 275,000 refugees.

A Yugoslav statement said the nation’s leaders wanted the Kosovo dispute solved peacefully, ``but in case we are attacked, we shall defend our country with all means.″

The government said Friday that the fighting had ended and blamed continuing violence on ethnic Albanian rebels.

Serbs reported two attacks Sunday on civilian cars by Albanian ``terrorists″ 25 miles south of Pristina, Kosovo’s provincial capital. Elsewhere, a policeman was killed after stepping on a mine, the Serb Media Center said.

The Kosovo Information Center, allied with the ethnic Albanians, reported heavy fighting between government forces and the guerrillas 25 miles southwest of Pristina.

Ethnic Albanian political leaders have rejected the new interim government, which was drawn up without their participation. The council is composed of seven Serbs, five ethnic Albanians and the rest Turks and Muslims.

Momentum for outside involvement has increased in the past week amid revelations of massacres of ethnic Albanian civilians in the forests of Kosovo.

London’s Sunday Telegraph reported that Britain is preparing troops and armored units for Kosovo, to be deployed in a post-airstrike peacekeeping role. The defense ministry refused to confirm or deny the report but repeated that Britain was ready to participate in a NATO attack.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine met Sunday night with his British counterpart, Robin Cook, to discuss the situation in Kosovo, France’s Foreign Ministry said.

Vedrine and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had a lengthy telephone conversation as well, the spokesman said.

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch said both Milosevic’s government and ethnic Albanian rebels have committed atrocities since the conflict began, but the government abuses were on a much greater scale.

The report by the New York-based human rights organization says Milosevic has ``the primary responsibility for gross government abuses.″

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