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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 07:54 GMT
US softens line on Balkans troops
US soldier in Kosovo
Bush wants to reduce the US troop presence in the Balkans
By Richard Lister in Washington

The American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has moved to dispel fears that the United States may be planning a sudden withdrawal of its peacekeeping troops from the Balkans.

General Powell has been having a series of meetings in Washington with senior politicians from the region, and he is expected to spell out the administration's policy again when he sees Kosovo Albanian leaders later on Friday.

Colin Powell
Colin Powell: Facing new wave of violence in Kosovo

There are currently 10,000 US peacekeeping troops in the Balkans, and although they comprise only 15% of the international force there, President George W Bush made clear in the election campaign that he wanted them withdrawn as soon as possible.

Since then, Mr Bush has softened that position and in his first meetings with Balkan officials in Washington, General Powell said the US would not "cut and run" from the region.

No hasty pull-out

He told them that while the policy was being reviewed, there would be no US troop reductions without careful consultation with European leaders.

He is expected to give the same message to a group of senior Kosovo Albanians on Friday, among them the leader of the main political party there, Ibrahim Rugova.

Map of Kosovo

But he is also expected to press them to rein in the continuing Albanian violence in the divided town of Mitrovica.

The State Department has demanded that confrontations with Nato peacekeepers there cease immediately.

General Powell may be in the position of demanding action from the Kosovo Albanians, while praising steps taken by the Serb leadership.

A State Department spokesman welcomed a new Serbian plan for reducing ethnic tensions as a basis for eventually ending the conflict in Kosovo. General Powell is expected to discuss it further when he meets the Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, later on Friday.

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | Europe
Third day of Mitrovica clashes
27 Nov 00 | Europe
Guerrillas threaten fragile peace
04 Mar 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Mitrovica: K-For's hardest test
19 Sep 00 | Americas
US acts on Kosovo misconduct report
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