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World - Europe

Kosovo Albanian leader: NATO troops should move in after any airstrikes

Rugova: They 'would complete the action'

October 9, 1998
Web posted at: 8:02 p.m. EDT (0002 GMT)

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- The leader of the largest ethnic Albanian political group in Kosovo said Friday that NATO forces should follow up any airstrikes against Serbia with the introduction of ground forces into Kosovo.

In an interview with CNN's Richard Blystone, Ibrahim Rugova said putting international forces in Kosovo "would complete the action."

"Air strikes and missiles are sufficient in order to destroy the military installations of Serbia, but ground troops are necessary in order to protect the population of Kosovo," Rugova said.

The United States, which is expected to provide the bulk of the firepower if NATO strikes the Yugoslav federation, has said it has no plans to introduce American ground forces into Kosovo.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has also made it clear that Americans won't support outright independence for Kosovo, a province in Serbia that is one of the two republics that make up the Yugoslav federation. Rather, the United States and other Western countries support increased autonomy for the province inside the federation.

But Rugova told CNN that independence for Kosovo "is by all means the best solution that would bring peace to the whole region."

"I have been urging an international protectorate as an interim stage -- something that would make it possible for Kosovo to be demilitarized, something that would create a climate to negotiate a settlement," he said. "But unfortunately, the Serb side is very rigid on this."

While advocating independence for Kosovo, Rugova has eschewed obtaining it through armed violence. That has put him at odds with the Kosovo Liberation Army, an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that has been the chief target of an eight-month crackdown by Yugoslav troops and Serb police.

"These armed groups of people have appeared in a very specific environment, and we have been trying and doing our best to bring them under control and eventually make them behave in a disciplined way," Rugova said. "But the Serbian police are deliberately keeping them isolated so as to make any contacts impossible."

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