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Sunday, February 14, 1999 Published at 17:41 GMT

World: Europe

Countdown for Kosovo

Serbian nationals protest outside the Rambouillet gates

Talks aimed at securing peace in Kosovo have been extended until next Saturday in the hope a deal can be struck.

Kosovo Section
The six-nation Contact Group said enough progress had been made in the past week to warrant more time for talks.

The move by the big nations will stave off the threat of Nato military action in the region for a week at least.

Defence Correspondent Mark Laity: "A genuine breakthrough"
The French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine announced the extension just hours after the warring parties met face-to-face for the first time.

Mr Vendrine said the bid for peace had reached a "decisive moment".

"They must conclude on Saturday 20 February at noon at the latest," he said.

Closer proximity

The BBC's Bridget Kendall: "A day of intense diplomatic activity"
The first joint meeting between the Serb and ethnic Albanian parties was enough to convince the US Secretary of State Madeline Albright that there was "justification" for the talks to continue.

[ image: Albright: More talks justified]
Albright: More talks justified
Mrs Albright said negotiators "see it in their interest" to accept the plan which would give the Albanians self-rule but not independence.

"They recognise this is an historic opportunity and that the killing must stop," she said.

Ms Albright said she was able to convince the Albanians that the peace plan on offer to end the conflict was a "fair deal."

Albright: "I came with a clear message for both sides."
"Based on my conversations with the (ethnic Albanian) Kosovar delegation, I believe that they recognize that the agreement is a fair deal and there is every indication that they would be willing to sign at the end."

But she was most circumspect about the Serbian side.

"They listened very carefully. My sense is that the Serbs were very interested in hearing what I had to say," she said.

Mrs Albright has told the Serbs they will have to make concessions at the talks or face NATO air strikes.

Accompanied by protest

The peace negotiations opened at Rambouillet near Paris last Saturday with a review scheduled for this weekend to ensure they were making progress.

[ image: Vocal pro-Albanians outside talks]
Vocal pro-Albanians outside talks
Throughout the week, both Serb and ethnic Albanian groups have mounted a protests at the venue and riot police were deployed to control thousands of pro-Albanian demonstrators.

Discussions centre on a peace blueprint drawn up by the six-nation Contact Group under which Kosovo would receive substantial autonomy for an interim three-year period while remaining a part of Yugoslavia.

The plan would see the withdrawal of Serbian security forces and the rebel KLA would be disarmed.

[ image: British troops prepare to intervene]
British troops prepare to intervene
The West has attached huge importance to ending the 11-month-old conflict in which 2,000 people have died.

While Nato has threatened air strikes if the talks fail, it has also pledged a 30,000-strong ground force to police a peace deal.

US President Bill Clinton has given his backing to the plan, promising to send 4,000 troops to Kosovo. The UK has already pledged a substantial involvement.

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Internet Links

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