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Saturday, December 26, 1998 Published at 12:46 GMT

World: Europe

Winter hardens resolve in Kosovo

Serb policemen return fire at KLA positions

By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

International monitors appear to have salvaged the Kosovo peace agreement after an offensive by Serb forces - at least for now.

Kosovo Section
But the continuing tensions underline the provisional nature of the ceasefire between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Yugoslav government forces.

BBC Correspondent Jacky Rowland: Efforts are underway to re-establish ceasefire
The precarious US-brokered settlement appears to have survived its latest test. But the mere fact that it was threatened by renewed fighting in the midst of winter suggests that the situation could rapidly deteriorate come the spring.

Once the Christmas break is over, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will strive to get its full complement of monitors operating on the ground.

[ image: William Walker, head of international monitors in Kosovo]
William Walker, head of international monitors in Kosovo
And Nato will push ahead with declaring operational its so-called extraction force based in Macedonia - a French-commanded, all-European force that is intended to rush across the border into Kosovo should the unarmed monitors get into trouble.

But the uncertainties about this force's chances of operating unhindered reflect the wider uncertainties about the Kosovo ceasefire itself.

Would Yugoslav government troops seek to hold-up the Nato force if it is ordered into action?

While it is institutions like the OSCE and Nato that are playing a practical role in the Kosovo crisis, it is US diplomacy that is in the driving seat.

Washington has set itself the difficult task of condemning both sides in Kosovo - the Yugoslav Government and the KLA. But at the same time the US is stepping up its criticism of President Slobodan Milosevic and his regime in Belgrade.

Many in Washington fear that President Clinton may have another Kosovo crisis on his hands when the winter snows thaw - a crisis that may well require the renewed brandishing of Nato warplanes.

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