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Saturday, December 19, 1998 Published at 16:14 GMT

World: Europe

Diplomats try to unify Kosovar Albanians

Kosovo has seen 46 deaths this week

International diplomats in Kosovo are trying to promote peace by forging unity among ethnic Albanian factions there.

Representatives from the Contact group on the former Yugoslavia are holding talks with leaders of the Yugoslav province's ethnic Albanian majority, whose political differences have previously been a stumbling block to ending the conflict with the ruling Serbs.

The meetings come at the end of the bloodiest week in Kosovo since October, in which more than 40 people died.

"We're here to convey a unified contact group message to Kosovo Albanians ... to explore possibilities of unifying Kosovo Albanian factions in order to enter a new phase of negotiations," said Jan Kickert, spokesman for the Austrian embassy in Belgrade.

The Contact Group includes representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Russia.

Led by Austrian and French envoys, the diplomats have already met an ethnic Albanian negotiating team aligned to the civilian leader Ibrahim Rugova. Later, the diplomats meet representatives of the Kosovo Libertation Army.

The KLA says it will accept nothing less than full independence for Kosovo, while Mr Rugova's followers have indicated they will accept autonomy without statehood.

'Improve human rights'

The United States Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Harold Koh, has called for an end to the violence and urged both sides in the conflict to refrain from retaliations.

He also insisted that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic must improve human rights situation

Mr Koh was speaking after a visit to Kosovo. He is now due to have talks in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, about the violence in Kosovo.

The new round of talks come at the end of the bloodiest week suffered by Kosovo since President Milosevic pulled back troops from the province in October.

On Friday the Deputy Mayor of Kosovo Polje, Zvonko Bojanic, was found dead, bringing the week's death toll to 46.

The Serbian authorities have blamed the KLA for the killing, a charge the KLA denies.

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