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Kosovo Albanians a no-show at Thursday's talks

Serb offer of negotiations termed 'farce'

In This Story: March 12, 1998
Web posted at: 10:35 p.m. EST (0335 GMT)

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Serbian officials have scheduled more talks Friday with ethnic Albanians in Kosovo after the Kosovars refused to attend a session set up Thursday by the Serbs.

But Albanian leaders indicated they were unlikely to show up Friday either, because Serbian officials were offering no prospect of compromise on the key Albanian demand for independence.

Indeed, Serbia's deputy premier, Ratko Markovic, who came to the Kosovo capital of Pristina for Thursday's talks, made it clear that "independence for Kosovo and its huge ethnic Albanian majority would be out of the question."

Kosovar student leaders said they and their supporters would take to the streets of Pristina Friday afternoon.

Yugoslavs under deadline for settlement

A crackdown on Albanian separatists by Serbian police earlier this month left at least 80 people dead. Kosovo, where 90 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian, is a province in southern Serbia, which is the largest constituent republic in the Yugoslav federation.

Western countries have given Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic until March 25 to make progress towards a political settlement with the Albanians in Kosovo or face tightened economic sanctions.

The Serbs responded by offering to talk to the Albanians. But they made their offer on Serbian television, which many Albanians do not receive, in a language a growing number of Kosovars do not understand.

Robert Gelbard
Gelbard, center, testifies before Congress

For Friday's talks, Serbian officials sent written invitations.

But Adem Demaci, leader of the Parliament Party of Kosovo and an activist who has spent decades in Serbian jails, called the talks "a farce, worthy only of a criminal and fascist-like regime."

"They came as lords to their servants, to ask if the servants have any complaints," Demaci said.

In a sign of the Albanians' growing frustration, the outspoken Demaci is gaining in influence as Kosovars have grown increasingly impatient with the efforts of Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the main Albanian party, the Democratic League of Kosovo, which advocates more mainstream tactics.

However, the DLK has also rejected any negotiations with Serb officials. Rugova called the offer of talks a trick "to reduce the pressure and to make confusion."

Rugova said the Kosovars want an international presence in any negotiations to ensure that the Serbs live up to any agreement.

U.S. envoy reports on trip to Kosovo

In Washington Thursday, ethnic Albanian Kosovo natives jammed a U.S. House hearing room where Robert Gelbard, the special U.S. envoy to the Balkans, testified after having just returned from a trip to Kosovo.

While he said he told Milosevic that the United States was "appalled" by the Serbian police action in Kosovo, Gelbard refused to spell out a scenario for the use of Western force to stop the Serbs, as many Albanians in the room wanted.

"We obviously want to try to find every possible measure -- both diplomatic [and] economic, sanctions, everything that can be used," he said. "But no options are ruled in or out."

West opposing outright Kosovo independence

However, the United States and the European Union are signaling their opposition to outright independence for Kosovo, fearing that any change in Balkan borders could trigger a wider war.

A statement by the European Union on Thursday dropped any reference to autonomy for the province, referring only to dialogue aimed at reaching an agreement under which Kosovo would have "enhanced status" within Yugoslavia.

But the U.S. State Department announced that NATO was studying the possibility of offering military training and assistance to countries that border Yugoslavia.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said the idea was "to give confidence to the countries in the region and to make sure that there are no miscalculations and there's as much confidence as possible so that if the situation does deteriorate further, the risk of it spreading is limited."

Correspondents Richard Blystone, Gene Randall and Reuters contributed to this report.


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