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Wednesday, June 24, 1998 Published at 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK

World: Europe

Rugova calls for Kosovo 'protectorate'

Ethnic Albanians protest in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo

The Kosovo ethnic Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, has called for the troubled Serb province to become an international protectorate as a transitional solution ahead of full independence.

Ibrahim Rugova: "Protection ... so that massive massacres are prevented."
His remarks were made despite a firm statement from the Nato Secretary General, Javier Solana, that independence for Kosovo is out of the question.

He also told Mr Rugova that he should resume talks with the Yugoslav Government immediately and without conditions.

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea: "We do not support independence for Kosovo."
The latest developments came as the American special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, met fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which wants independence.

He later returned to Belgrade for further talks with President Milosevic to try to prevent the crisis from becoming "a general war".

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair: "The military option remains."
The BBC's Diplomatic Correspondent, Barnaby Mason, said Mr Solana was only repeating, albeit forcefully, the international community's stated position.

He said the statement appeared to signify that military action by Nato was not imminent.

A Nato spokesman, however, confirmed military action was still an option and said its planners had been instructed to come up with detailed intervention plans.

The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair also said that despite continuing diplomatic efforts, the threat of armed Nato action remained.

'Right to independence'

[ image: Rugova: told to resume talks]
Rugova: told to resume talks
Mr Solana made his comments at talks in Brussels with Mr Rugova on Wednesday. Mr Rugova earlier said that Kosovo had the right to become independent because it was part of a country which had dissolved.

In a 30-minute meeting at Nato headquarters, Mr Solana told Mr Rugova that the Nato allies backed talks leading to enhanced political status for Kosovo but did not support independence.

BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason: "The implication is that military action is not imminent."
Mr Rugova asked for Nato intervention and said the security situation in Kosovo was worse than reported.

Later he was vague when asked if he was ready to go back to the negotiating table without pre-conditions, saying it was very difficult to negotiate under such terrible conditions.

He said independence was his final objective but suggested a demilitarised international protectorate with all rights guaranteed for Kosovo's minority Serb population as a transitional solution.

Nato preparations continue

[ image: RAF Jaguars are part of Nato's Kosovo force]
RAF Jaguars are part of Nato's Kosovo force
Western inspired talks between the two sides in Kosovo broke down after Serbia launched a fresh offensive which it said was aimed at the KLA.

The BBC's Brussels correspondent said Nato is still continuing preparations for military intervention in case diplomatic efforts fail.

Last week Nato staged a show of air force in the region but, due to Russian opposition, the threat of air strikes seems to have receded.

Alliance diplomats say the situation on the ground does not seem as bad as during the height of a Serb military crackdown a few weeks ago.

American pressure

Mr Holbrooke met armed and uniformed members of the KLA on Wednesday, the first public meeting of an American official with Kosovo's guerrillas.

Journalists travelling with him said he talked to two KLA fighters for more than 30 minutes in a village close to Kosovo's border with Albania.

He expressed anger at Yugoslav security forces' involvement in the destruction he witnessed in Decani, which suffered heavy damage during recent fighting, and likened the situation to Vietnam during the US conflict there and to Bosnia.

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