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Tuesday, April 7, 1998 Published at 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK


Kosovo Albanians boycott Serb visit
image: [ Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo demand independence ]
Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo demand independence

Ethnic Albanian leaders in the Serb province of Kosovo have refused to meet the Serbian President, Milan Milutinovic, for peace talks. They said they would only meet him in the presence of an international mediator - something the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, is still refusing to accept. From Kosovo, Humphrey Hawksley reports.

Veton Surroi, an ethnic Albanian negotiatior: visit is a trick by Mr Milosevic
President Milutinovic of Serbia is in Kosovo to begin talks with Albanian leaders to end the increasingly violent campaign for independence. He is a trusted friend of the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, and his visit to Pristina is seen as an outright rejection of Albanian demands to negotiate with more senior officials from the Yugoslav Federation.

He arrived at the Pristina Municipal Offices with a delegation of negotiators sent from Serbia and they spent the first part of the day closeted in a conference room but with no Albanian representatives to talk to. The Albanians claim that Serbia is not interested in considering their demands for independence.

[ image: Serbian President Milutinovic]
Serbian President Milutinovic
Shortly before Mr Milutinovic's arrival another senior Serb official, Veljko Odalovic, who effectively runs Kosovo, gave a warning that the security forces would retaliate against any attacks by Albanian guerrilla's from the Kosovo Liberation Army. He said that his government would protect by all means the integrity and territory of Serbia, and that if the guerrilla fighters claimed they were prepared to take on the state, they should be ready to accept the consequences.

For their part the guerrillas don't appear to be listening. They are setting up their own checkpoints close to Serbian police positions, and are equipped now with new automatic weapons and military fatigues bought mostly with the money of Albanians living abroad in Switzerland and Germany.

Karen Coleman visits Serbian villagers arming in fear in Kosovo
The one point both sides do agree on, however, is that the Albanian fighters are not ready for frontline confrontation, indicating that if the conflict isn't resolved shortly, it could turn into a war of hit and run guerrilla attacks which would be almost impossible to bring to an end.


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