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Friday, January 29, 1999 Published at 13:10 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: Troubled path ahead

Threat of force over Kosovo

By South-east Europe Analyst Gabriel Partos

For the past three months the American envoy, Christopher Hill, has been spearheading mediation efforts to produce an interim three-year settlement which would give Kosovo a considerable degree of autonomy.

Kosovo Section
But the two sides have shown few signs of a willingness to compromise and so far they have refused to hold face-to-face talks.

In the meantime, the informal ceasefire and force reduction deal that Belgrade accepted in October has broken down. And the recent flare-up in fighting now holds out the prospect of a possibly huge escalation in violence in the spring.

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It was this threat of large-scale bloodshed and a possible spillover across Kosovo's borders that has prompted the Contact Group to come up with a tight schedule of no more than three weeks for a deal to be agreed by Belgrade and the Kosovar Albanians.

But there are several obstacles in the way of getting the talks off the ground and then steering them in the direction of a successful conclusion.

Violence continues

[ image: Fighting continues on the ground]
Fighting continues on the ground
First and foremost, fighting is still going on in Kosovo, in spite of Nato's threat to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in October that it would launch air strikes against Serbian targets unless he stopped offensive action and scaled down his forces' presence in Kosovo.

If President Milosevic can flout his undertakings on the ceasefire, that could also encourage him to circumvent the Contact Group's timetable for a political settlement.

Besides, continuing fighting does not provide a suitable backdrop for peace talks. In the case of the Dayton negotiations on Bosnia-Hercegovina, a ceasefire had been in place well before the peace conference opened.

Kosovo divisions

Indeed, the ethnic Albanians' Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, has repeatedly declared that it will not join peace talks until the fighting stops and Serbian security forces are pulled out of Kosovo.

There are also deep divisions within the ethnic Albanian community between the KLA and the the political leadership under Ibrahim Rugova. It will be difficult to agree on a joint negotiating team in the little time left before the peace talks are scheduled to open at the end of next week.

How the KLA can be persuaded to attend the talks remains one of the Contact Group's big headaches. And if it does not attend, how would a deal be enforced?

To make things even more complicated, the KLA's attendance could also create problems. After all, Serbian leaders have reiterated that they would not talk to the KLA which they describe as a terrorist organisation.

Belgrade has also made other objections to the proposed peace talks, among others the demand that any negotiations should take place in Yugoslavia.

All these pitfalls make the road to the Rambouillet talks a rocky one, indeed. Even once the warring sides are there, the timetable for reaching a deal looks very ambitious.

The Contact Group initiative shows every sign that the international community has lost its patience over Kosovo. But for this new dose of resolve to work, Nato may well need to get involved.

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