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World - Europe

Yugoslavia vows no troop pullout from Kosovo

Serb-led government willing to talk, but without mediator

June 18, 1998
Web posted at: 1:05 p.m. EDT (1705 GMT)

(CNN) -- Yugoslavia reaffirmed Thursday it is ready to resume peace talks with ethnic Albanian leaders seeking independence for Kosovo, but said there would be no international mediator in the violent dispute and no pullout of Serbian forces from the province.

"I am optimistic dialogue will resume ... there is no other way," Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic said in Brussels where met with his Belgian counterpart.

The talks should take place against a background of respect for territorial integrity and for human rights and national minority rights, he said.

Parents demand the Yugoslav army allow their sons to return from Kosovo
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Asked if Belgrade was ready to pull its troops and special police back from the crisis zone, Jovanovic said: "It's not a foreign territory. They are needed there."

Jovanovic's message was unlikely to dispel suspicions that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is unwilling to make any fundamental change of strategy in Kosovo, where his security forces are battling pro-independence guerrillas of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

The violence has left more than 300 dead and forced an estimated 60,000 to flee their homes since February.


CNN's Brent Sadler reports from Albania:

  • Thousands of Kosovo refugees are unaccounted for...
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  • Refugee path reportedly blocked
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  • Increased difficulty for KLA gun transports
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Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova met last month, but talks broke down after just one follow-up meeting. The ethnic Albanians said they could not return to the table while they were being attacked by Serbian forces.

Other developments

Also Thursday:

  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair threatened Yugoslavia with military action if it fails to meet conditions laid down by the European Union to defuse the Kosovo crisis. Addressing the European Parliament, Blair warned that "military planning is well under way in NATO, with the full support of EU member states, in case diplomacy alone proves inadequate."
    Britain is concluding its six-month presidency of the European Union.
  • On a visit to Latvia, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said that officials from the alliance and Russia had met at NATO headquarters in Brussels and pledged to find a peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis. But Solana reiterated that the alliance was ready to back its demands on Milosevic with force.
Milosevic and Yeltsin
Milosvic. left, and Yeltsin earlier this week   
  • Russia plans to send two deputy foreign ministers to the Balkan region to brief leaders and help push forward efforts to ease the crisis, the Foreign Ministry said. On Monday, President Boris Yeltsin and Milosevic issued a joint statement in Moscow in which Milosevic said he was committed to a political solution. But it stopped short of meeting international demands for a troop withdrawal.
    The Russian deputies were to leave on Sunday -- one of them going to Belgrade and Pristina, the main city in Kosovo; the other assigned to visit the Albanian capital of Tirana and Skopje, capital of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.
  • Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic charged that much of the international coverage of the conflict was no more than propaganda that reflected the views of Western governments and of Kosovo's majority Albanian population.
    Although the West has condemned the use of tanks, artillery and helicopters against the Albanians, Vucic said the presence of the KLA in large areas of Kosovo justified the presence of the police and army.
  • The Albanian-run Kosovo Information Center reported continued Serbian shelling of villages near the Albanian border in the district of the south-western town of Djakovica on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
    In turn, Yugoslavia's government-run Tanjug news agency accused militants of attacking two Serb villages 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of the provincial capital Pristina. The villagers fired back, and there were no casualties, Tanjug said.
    Also, the pro-Serb Media Center reported that a Yugoslav army border patrol opened fire on a group of armed Albanians trying to enter Kosovo from neighboring Macedonia.
  • There have been reports that members of the Serbian police have refused to go to Kosovo, and parents of members of the security forces have come to the province to ask that their sons be excused from duty.
    In addition, several hundred of them protested in front of the Yugoslav army headquarters in Belgrade on Thursday demanding the return of their conscript sons from Kosovo and that Milosevic and his son Marko be sent there instead.

Serbia is a republic within what's left of the splintered Yugoslavia. Kosovo is a province in southern Serbia where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs nine to one.

Most Kosovo residents favor autonomy or secession from Serbia, but Serbs consider the area vital to their identity.

  • Albania said it had protested to Yugoslavia over the killing of an Albanian citizen, allegedly by Serbian border guards. Tuesday's killing took place 300 meters (less than 1/4 mile) away from a path on Mount Rebe into Albania which ethnic Albanians use to flee the undeclared war in Kosovo.
  • The European Commission said it had cleared a 1.5 million ecu ($1.7 million) emergency aid package for refugees fleeing violence in Kosovo.
  • To the relief of both domestic and international passengers, JAT, Yugoslavia's national airline, continued flying despite a threatened ban by the six-nation Contact Group. Last week, the group composed of Britain, the United States, Germany, France, Italy and Russia, banned JAT flights in a package of measures against Belgrade to halt violence in Kosovo. But the wording of the Contact Group statement left room for doubt as to when the ban would become effective.

Correspondent Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this report.

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