Albanian rebels in Kosovo announce cease-fire
U.S. envoy makes last-ditch effort to avoid NATO strikesOctober 8, 1998
Web posted at: 10:01 p.m. EDT (0201 GMT)
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PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Ethnic Albanian rebels fighting for the independence of Kosovo announced a unilateral cease-fire Thursday, putting more pressure on Yugoslav President to end his own military operations in the violence-torn Serbian province.
In a statement released to Albanian-language media in the provincial capital, Pristina, the Kosovo Liberation Army said it had "decided to refrain from all military activity," starting Friday.
However, the KLA reserved the right to defend itself if attacked by Yugoslav forces, and it called for international monitoring of the cease-fire.
Though there has been no major fighting in Kosovo during the past week, Milosevic has so far refused to declare his own cease-fire, as Western countries have been demanding. NATO officials say there are still 25,000 Yugoslav troops and Serbian paramilitary police in the province.
The KLA's announcement came as NATO edged ever closer to launching military strikes aimed at forcing the Yugoslavs to end their eight-month crackdown on separatists in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population.
Kosovo is a province of Serbia, the larger of the two republics that make up the Yugoslav federation.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned Milosevic that "time is all but gone" and said NATO could order airstrikes against Serbia within days.
In a last-ditch effort to avoid a military confrontation, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke traveled to Belgrade for a Friday meeting with Milosevic.
He was expected to present the Yugoslav leader with six demands put forward by the Contact Group, a consortium of major powers that monitors issues in the Balkans.
Among the demands by the Contact Group, which includes the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy:
Outright independence for Kosovo was not among the demands.
Albright reiterated Thursday that the United States does not support an independent Kosovo, as the KLA has been demanding. Rather, she said the United States supports a restoration of self-rule for the province, which was nullified by Serbian leaders in 1989.
After a meeting of Contact Group foreign ministers in London Thursday, British Foreign Secretary said if Milosevic refuses to comply, NATO leaders will meet within a few days to consider the use of force.
With military action an increasing possibility, road convoys of British and U.S. embassy employees and their families left Belgrade early Thursday morning bound for Hungary.
Jim Kenney, a spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, said on arrival in Budapest that the move was necessary in view of recent threats made against Western diplomats, aid workers and medical employees.
"Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj has been making numerous inflammatory and irresponsible statements in the press, threatening unspecific actions," Kenney said.
Belgrade media quoted Seselj, a Serb ultra-nationalist, as saying Yugoslav citizens working for international news organizations would be treated as "spies."
Earlier Thursday, speaking to reporters in Brussels, Albright predicted NATO's political arm, the North Atlantic Council, would "in the next few days" authorize NATO's supreme commander to order strikes against Serb targets to punish Milosevic for failing to withdraw his troops from Kosovo.
"I am confident we have the legitimate grounds," Albright said, dismissing requests from hesitant allies who would prefer that the U.N. Security Council issue another resolution on how to compel Milosevic to withdraw his troops from Kosovo and enter negotiations on the province's status.
Russia, which opposes military strikes on Serbia, has threatened to veto such a resolution.
"I believe we are at a crossroads in the history of the Balkans as well as NATO," Albright said. "The decisions we make in the days ahead will be crucial for us all."
"NATO is our institution of choice when it comes to preserving peace and defending Western values on the continent," she said. "It must be prepared to act when a threat of this nature exists on Europe's doorstep."
And Albright also said that "if force is necessary, we will not be deterred by the fact that Russians do not agree with that."
The Russians aren't alone in their opposition to a show of force by NATO. There were also indications Thursday that even some nations within NATO aren't convinced that the alliance should go ahead and launch an attack in the absence of the Security Council's specific OK.
Italian Prime Minister -- whose country hosts U.S. and NATO air bases that could be used in any attack -- told members of parliament in Rome that any military intervention in Serbia would have to "be legitimized" by the council.
"We do not believe that the chances of a political solution have been exhausted," said Prodi, whose government is facing a close no-confidence vote Friday.
In Germany, the Green party, which is about to enter the new government as a coalition partner of Social Democratic Chancellor-elect Gerhard Schroeder, also expressed opposition to a NATO strike without previous U.N. approval.
"We want to keep NATO from giving itself a mandate," said Angelika Beer, a Green party spokeswoman on defense issues.
But U.S. and NATO officials expressed confidence that despite the dissenting voices, a consensus will be reached in favor of strikes against Serbia.
"We have to have a discussion on the alliance. It is a key issue, but we will find a consensus at the end of the day which all of the allies will be comfortable with," said a NATO official in reaction to Prodi's comments.
There is no precedent for a NATO ally opting out of alliance action. In 1995, when NATO bombed Serbian targets during the Bosnian War, Greece did not participate in the action, but it did allow its bases to be used for the operations.
The NATO officials are expected to meet Saturday, and the activation order to use force against Serbia will probably come at that meeting -- or no later than Monday, one NATO official told CNN.
An activation order puts "people in place" in preparation for the next step -- the decision to act, or "strike order," which must be made by the North Atlantic Council, the political arm of NATO.
U.S. officials said earlier Thursday that any NATO strike would be carried out solely with air power and that they were not offering to send American ground forces to Kosovo as part of an international force to keep any peace settlement that may result from the air strikes.
Some 7,500 U.S. troops are stationed in neighboring Bosnia as part of a 33,000-troop peacekeeping force.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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