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Wednesday, July 29, 1998 Published at 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK

World: Europe

Negotiation breakthrough in Kosovo

EU says growing refugee problem is "not acceptable"

Ethnic Albanian fighters in the Serbian province of Kosovo have given cautious support to the possibility of a negotiated settlement in the province.

The American ambassador to Macedonia, Christopher Hill, who met representatives of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) on Wednesday, said they were willing to see the talks process go forward.

[ image: Ibrahim Rugova met the EU delegates on Wednesday]
Ibrahim Rugova met the EU delegates on Wednesday
However, he said the organisation might not take a direct part.

Earlier, ethnic Albanian political leader, Ibrahim Rugova, told European Union officials that a team was being established to hold talks with Serbia on the future of Kosovo.

The EU envoys are due to meet the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, on Thursday.

'Fighting must stop'

Both the European Union and the Americans want the rebels represented in direct talks.

Austria's representative, Albert Rochan, said the delegation's message was that the fighting had to stop as the increasing number of victims and the growing refugee problem was not acceptable.

EU delegate Albert Rochan: "The violence has to stop immediately"
The BBC correspondent in Kosovo, Andrew Harding, says the KLA has suffered a string of military defeats in recent days but that does not necessarily mean that its leadership is now ready to compromise on its demand for full independence for Kosovo.

He adds that Belgrade may not be in any hurry to negotiate now that it seems to have the KLA on the run.

Ben Brown reports on "fast and furious" Seb offensive
Diplomatic sources say the international community has been turning a blind eye to the last few days of fighting in order to make the KLA understand that it cannot win its struggle for independence by military means.

Refugees trapped by fighting

Aid agencies estimate that more than 100,000 civilians are on the run after a five-day offensive by Serbian forces against the KLA in western Kosovo.

[ image: The former KLA stronghold Malisevo is now a ghost town]
The former KLA stronghold Malisevo is now a ghost town
The ethnic Albanians say Serbia is moving reinforcements to the area.

The Yugoslav authorities insist that they are not targeting civilians - only what they describe as terrorists.

They say that the capture on Tuesday of the KLA stronghold of Malisevo, in western Kosovo, was accomplished without any civilian casualties.

But aid agencies say tens of thousand of refugees have been trapped by the fighting, sometimes coming under heavy shellfire.

UNHCR Spokesperson Lyndall Sachs: Not all refugees can be counted for
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says it is extremely worried about the situation in Malisevo, where it believes there are now 20,000 people without sufficient food or medical supplies.

After their success in Malisevo, the Serbian forces are now reported to have encircled Junik, near the border with Albania.

The KLA has seen its recent territorial gains vanish during the offensive.

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