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World - Europe

Milosevic reportedly to hold talks with Kosovo Albanians

meeting
Milosevic and Yeltsin meet  
June 16, 1998
Web posted at: 5:34 a.m. EDT (0534 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- With the conflict in Kosovo intensifying, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Tuesday agreed to talks with ethnic Albanians to ease tensions in the volatile province, Interfax news agency quoted Russian President Boris Yeltsin as saying.

The news came after Milosevic met with Yeltsin Tuesday in Moscow.

Western officials have made clear that it would like to see an enhanced status for Kosovo, while underlining that Yugoslavia's sovereignty must be maintained. They have also emphasized Milosevic must stop the violence and meet with the ethnic Albanian majority in the region, or suffer the consequences.

The meeting came only a day after dozens of NATO warplanes took to the skies over the southern Balkans to demonstrate the Western military alliance's determination to stop ethnic bloodshed in Kosovo.

"It's good that our desire to meet coincided," Interfax news agency quoted Yeltsin as telling Milosevic at the outset of the talks.

U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke with Yeltsin on the eve of the talks in a 40-minute phone conversation and was assured by the Russian leader that he would express "very strong sentiments" in favor of a diplomatic solution rather than military conflict in Kosovo, The New York Times reported.

Moscow has strongly opposed any direct intervention in Yugoslavia and has been widely critical of NATO's post-Cold War role. However, Russia has supported Western calls for both Milosevic and the Kosovo Liberation Army to stop violence and hold serious negotiations on the future of the province.

Fighting in Kosovo has killed at least 300 people and displaced tens of thousands since the Serbian crackdown began in February. Many Serbs consider Kosovo the cradle of Serbian culture.

Enhanced status sought for Kosovo

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov was scheduled to brief reporters later Tuesday on the progress of the talks. Primakov helped draw up a list of demands last Friday with other ministers from the six-nation Contact Group -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States.

The Contact Group demanded an end to all action by Serbian security forces against civilians, the withdrawal of forces, unimpeded access for international monitors and humanitarian organizations, the right of refugees to return and rapid progress in talks with the Kosovo Albanian leadership.

If Milosevic shuns Yeltsin and does not comply, Yugoslavia could face Western military action.

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