Sunday, February 7, 1999 Published at 03:00 GMT
'History in their hands'
The conference was opened by President Jacques Chirac
The peace conference on Kosovo has finally convened after a three-hour delay due to a Serb refusal to let the ethnic Albanian delegation leave for France.
"There are rare moments when history is in the hands of only a few men. This is the case today as you take your places at this negotiating table," Mr Chirac told the delegates.
He also called on the Serbs and ethnic Albanians to accept the deployment of an international military force in the province.
The co-chairman of the talks, UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, said he remained cautious about the outcome.
It was the third reported bombing in Pristina in little more than a week.
The talks at Rambouillet were delayed as the Serbian authorities prevented the KLA representatives from leaving Kosovo. They later revoked that decision.
Outside the chateau in France police security was tight as the Serb and Albanian delegations arrived separately.
A senior Serb delegate, Vojislav Zevkovic, said "if the KLA shows up at the plenary session, we won't attend."
A BBC correspondent in Rambouillat, David Shukman, says the organisers have got round the problem by having the Serb team and the ethnic Albanian team in different rooms.
The international negotiators - US envoy Christopher Hill, European Union representative Wolfgang Petritsch and Russian diplomat Boris Mayorski - will then be shuttling between the two parties.
However, both delegations were reported to have been inside the chateau when President Chirac spoke.
International mediators say the two sides will be kept well away from the media and under constant pressure to reach a deal.
"Clearly I think they have to put aside their maximalist positions. The Albanians have to stop talking about independence, the Serbs have got to stop talking about status quo and we have to find something in the middle," Mr Hill said.
The two sides will be presented with a draft plan by the six-nation Contact Group - made up of the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Italy - providing the basis for an agreement.
The status of Kosovo would be reviewed after three years.
The proposal states that all paramilitary groups, including the KLA, would be dismantled within three months.
It also instructs Serbia to reduce its police force strength in Kosovo to 2,500 immediately, from the current level estimated at around 10,000.
A new police force reflecting the ethnic composition of Kosovo - almost 90% - would be set up.
The international monitoring mission in Kosovo would set a timetable for the remaining Serbian police to leave. The federal Yugoslav army would be scaled down.
If the two negotiating teams have not made significant progress by 12 February, the process will be extended by another week.
Nato has threatened military strikes if the parties fail to reach an agreement.