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Thursday, February 4, 1999 Published at 18:18 GMT

World: Europe

Serbs back Kosovo talks

Ethnic Albanian refugees wait for news as talks about talks continue

The Serbian parliament has voted overwhelmingly to send a delegation to the forthcoming Kosovo peace talks in France - but said that it should take a tough stance once there.

Kosovo Section
The vote, backed by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), was carried by 227 to three and came after almost six hours of occasionally heated debate.

However, members said they would not accept the use of foreign troops to guarantee a peace settlement.

The BBC's Ben Brown examines the prospects for peace in Kosovo
Ethnic Albanians, who make up the majority of the population of Kosovo, along with the Kosovo Liberation Army, have already agreed to attend the talks.

Nato had threatened military action against the two sides if they failed to come to the table by Saturday and to reach a peace agreement by 19 February to put an end to 11 months of fighting.

Nato is now preparing plans to send up to 30,000 peacekeeping troops to Kosovo to police a peace deal on the ground. On Thursday, President Bill Clinton said the US was "seriously considering" participating in an international peace force to maintain any peace accord.

[ image:  ]
"If a settlement is reached, a Nato presence on the ground in Kosovo could prove essential in giving both sides the confidence they need to pull back from their fight," he said.

He set strict conditions for US participation and said Washington's European allies should make up the bulk of a peace force in Kosovo.

The president's words were later backed up by his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She said the US would contribute "no more than several thousand troops, while our European allies provide the lion's share."

The UK Government later announced that it was putting 8,000 troops on standby to go to Kosovo as part of any Nato force in the event of a peace settlement. The Ministry of Defence stressed that no final decision has been made, but said early notice of possible deployment was needed to allow them to prepare for rapid movement if they do go.

Serb aims for talks

[ image: Vojislav Seselj: Belgrade would not accept foreign troops]
Vojislav Seselj: Belgrade would not accept foreign troops
In the Serbian parliament, speaker Dragan Tomic said the almost unanimous vote underlined Serbia's unified stance.

"We reaffirmed our unity and determination to resolve the problems of Kosovo through dialogue," he said. Two basic principles lie behind the talks, he said: To resolve the problem peacefully, and to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia and Yugoslavia.

Jacky Rowland reports: Belgrade must now name its team of delegates
Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, said his deputies would not "oppose the attending of the state delegation to the talks".

Mr Seselj, the junior partner in the Serbian Government coalition, said Belgrade would not accept foreign peacekeeping troops or the constitutional separation of Kosovo from Serbia foreign peacekeeping troops.

Newstalk - have your say
He said: "We will use all means to prevent the arrival of Nato troops in Kosovo. There is no way that the troops of Nato can be deployed in Kosovo in a peaceful way."

And the secretary-general of President Milosevic's SPS party, Gorica Gajevic, said: "It is our stand to accept the invitation because of our people's and our state's firm commitment to fight for peace, to defend Kosovo as a vital state and national interest of Serbia and Yugoslavia, wherever the issue is discussed."

But she warned the Serbs would not allow either a secession or a third republic status for Kosovo. "Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia and it will remain so."

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