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The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"It was the violence in Macedonia that prompted this meeting"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 22:23 GMT 23:23 UK
US to maintain Balkans role
Colin Powell at Contact Group meeting
Colin Powell (centre) reassured Nato allies about US policy
The United States has told its European allies that it intends to remain engaged in the Balkans.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave the commitment at a meeting of the six-nation Contact Group in Paris.

"There is no end point - we have established no time by which US troops have to be out," Mr Powell said.

President George W Bush has said he would like to bring US forces home from Balkan peacekeeping missions.

Force levels

Mr Powell, holding his first direct talks with European counterparts, said Washington was reviewing the level of troops needed in the region.

Macedonia forces
The Contact Group wants to keep the lid on ethnic violence in Macedonia

"We're constantly looking at the mix, and participate in the regular reviews of the size of the forces, and looking for opportunities to draw down but not for opportunities to bail out," he said.

Foreign ministers of the Contact Group - made up of the United States, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and Russia - met in Paris to co-ordinate their policies in the Balkans.

The instability in Macedonia was high on the agenda.

Extremism condemned

The ministers said there was no place in the Balkans for those who resorted to violence and terrorism.

They urged Albanians in Kosovo to "vigorously condemn extremism and isolate those extremist armed groups that remain inside (the province) and near the borders with Macedonia".

They also called on the Macedonian authorities to carry out further reforms to "consolidate a multi-ethnic society".

The Contact Group was formed in April 1994 to coordinate policy during the Yugoslav wars. It last met at ministerial level in New York last September.

At the Paris meeting the ministers also

  • Made clear their opposition to any move towards independence by Montenegro, where elections this month may lead to a referendum on separation from Yugoslavia;
  • Expressed support for the principle of national elections in Kosovo later this year;
  • Strongly condemned Croat separatists in Bosnia-Hercegovina, who diplomats believe to be fomenting trouble to break away from the Muslim-Croat federation.

The French Foreign Minister, Hubert Védrine, said the Contact Group had the will to act together and there was a true common vision for the long term.

Milosevic question

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason says it seems clear that Russia was reluctant to endorse a clear call for the Yugoslav authorities to hand over the former President, Slobodan Milosevic, to the International War Crimes Tribunal.

The joint statement welcomed his arrest as an important step in the right direction and the readiness of Belgrade to co-operate.

Russian officials accuse the West of having allegedly encouraged ethnic Albanian guerrilla movements in the past.

Among the Western allies there are strains over President Bush's abandonment of the Kyoto treaty on climate change and his determination to press ahead with ambitious programmes of anti-missile defence.

The French Government, like many in Europe, is worried about these issues, and President Jacques Chirac emphasised French dismay over the Kyoto pull-out during his talks with General Powell.

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See also:

07 Apr 01 | Americas
Analysis: Bush's foreign policy
06 Apr 01 | Europe
Ethnic tension a pan-European ill
03 Apr 01 | Europe
Nato in Macedonia peace drive
29 Mar 01 | Europe
Nato's Kosovo challenge
26 Mar 01 | Europe
Military forces in Macedonia
18 Mar 01 | Europe
Greater Albania question
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