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Thursday, March 12, 1998 Published at 17:06 GMT

World: Europe

Kosovo Albanians say "no basis" for talks
image: [ Ethnic Albanians demonstrate in Kosovo ]
Ethnic Albanians demonstrate in Kosovo

Ethnic Albanians have rejected a Serbian invitation to meet for talks in the Serbian province of Kosovo, saying no real agenda has been offered.

A Serbian government delegation arrived in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, inviting Albanian leaders to "open and public" talks with three senior Serbian ministers.

No agenda was mentioned but the question of independence for Kosovo was ruled out.

Speaking prior to the arrival of the Serbian ministers in Kosovo's main city, Pristina, Enver Maloku, a spokesperson for the Democratic League of Kosovo, the biggest ethnic Albanian party, said nobody from the Albanian parties would attend the planned talks.

The Serbian deputy prime minister, Ratko Markovic, leading the delegation, said they would remain in Pristina until Friday.

[ image: Serb police on patrol in Kosovo]
Serb police on patrol in Kosovo
Tensions in Kosovo are running high after paramilitary police assaults on alleged separatist guerrilla bases killed scores of ethnic Albanians, including women and children.

There has been strong international criticism of the recent Serb military operations.

The BBC's correspondent in Belgrade says it appears the Serbs want to deflect international criticism by launching an initiative that is likely to go nowhere.

No adequate platform

In the Serbian capital, Belgrade, independent B 92 radio quoted Fehmi Agani, the vice president of the League, as saying his party would not attend because no "adequate platform" had been offered, and they don't know what to talk about.

Aluz Gashi, adviser to ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova: "We are ready for dialogue" (Dur: 3' 02")
The Serbian Government offer was made in response to international pressure on Belgrade to open a dialogue on Kosovo and put an end to the military crackdown which killed at least 50 ethnic Albanians last week.

The BBC correspondent in Belgrade says Serbia is well aware that the main Albanian leaders in Kosovo are not ready for talks unless they cover independence, which Serbia rejects.

[ image: Ibrahim Rugova]
Ibrahim Rugova
Ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova has said his party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), believes autonomy will lead to more violence, and it will stick to its demand for full independence.

The authorities in Belgrade have made clear that discussions would have to be on the basis of preserving Serbian sovereignty.

Will talk to responsible representatives

The Serbian Government earlier issued an offer to hold talks with what it called "responsible representatives" of the Kosovo Albanians.

A government statement called on "responsible representatives of the Albanian national minority to distance themselves from terrorism and join in international condemnation of this evil".

The statement was seen as the first sign of compromise by the Serbian authorities since the beginning of the violent clampdown in the province.

The offer met with widespread hostility in Kosovo, where there is continuing anger among ethnic Albanians over allegations that some of the victims of last week's security operations by the Serbian authorities were executed by the police.

Adam Demaci, head of the Kosovo Parliamentary Party, said: "We cannot discuss normally under these conditions, under this reign of terror with a knife at our throat. This Serb proposal is pure hypocrisy."

'End cycle of violence'

[ image: The corpses of some of those killed were placed in a makeshift mortuary]
The corpses of some of those killed were placed in a makeshift mortuary
Earlier the US special envoy Robert Gelbard urged both the Serbian Government and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to seek an immediate end to the "worrisome cycle of violence" in the province.

Mr Gelbard called on both sides to work to reduce tensions. But he said it was up to Belgrade to take the first step.

"The government ... needs to take the initiative to increase confidence and lower tensions and initiate dialogue as a way of restoring confidence and ending what is turning into a dramatically worrisome cycle of violence and more violence," he said.

Mr Gelbard was visiting the Kosovo capital of Pristina for talks with ethnic Albanian leaders, including Mr Rugova.

"We obviously are tremendously saddened by all deaths and we feel the violence on all sides must stop immediately," Mr Gelbard said.

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