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Monday, February 22, 1999 Published at 08:14 GMT

World: Europe

Pressure grows on ethnic Albanians

Serb President Milan Milutinovic uses his cellular phone in the Rambouillet gardens

As the Kosovo peace talks near Paris entered their last full day, the United States put enormous pressure on the ethnic Albanian delegation to agree to autonomy proposals.

Kosovo Section
The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, met ethnic Albanian delegates for several hours of negotiations with the French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, and the Serbian President, Milan Milutinovic.

And Nato's supreme allied commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, met the chairman of the ethnic Albanian delegation, Hashim Thaci, in Rambouillet.

[ image:  ]
But no agreements have yet been achieved, and time is running out as the extended deadline approaches.

"Everything is possible, nothing is settled," Mr Vedrine commented.

The ethnic Albanian and Serbian delegations have until 1400GMT on Tuesday to reach agreement, following an extension on Saturday.

US 'too optimistic'

Reporting from Rambouillet, the BBC's Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason says that some Western diplomats think the United States has been too optimistic about the willingness of the Kosovar Albanians to sign up to the political text.

[ image:  ]
According to the correspondent, there is a range of opinion among the ethnic Albanian delegates, especially between the civilian representatives and those who speak for the guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The Americans want the ethnic Albanians to agree to drop their demands for an independence referendum at the end of the proposed three year interim period.

An agreement from the ethnic Albanians would enable the West to increase pressure on the Serbs to accept Nato peacekeeping forces.

And the American State Department spokesman, James Rubin, made it clear that the Americans are still waiting for a final "yes" from the Kosovar Albanians, as well as from the Serbs.

"We have said very clearly that if the Serbs are responsible for the failure of agreeing to this two-part military and political package that they would be subject to air-strikes but we can't make that threat credible and give the Serbs the pressure that we would like to see them under so that they would agree unless the Kosovar Albanians do agree," he said.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall reports: "Everything now hinges on the Kosovar Albanians"
Meanwhile, the Serb delegates have agreed among themselves that they are prepared to give Kosovo limited autonomy, but they remain adamantly opposed to the deployment of a Nato-led force to ensure the deal is carried out.

Belgrade has proposed a peace-keeping force made up of troops from "friendly nations" such as Russia.

Russia, which Belgrade sees as an important ally in opposing Nato threats to bomb, said on Monday it was prepared to contribute to a peace-keeping force if it was sanctioned by the United Nations and Belgrade asked for it.

Violence in Kosovo

Peter Biles reports from Kosovo: The skirmish began mid morning
Earlier on Monday, violence flared in the town of Vucitrn, 25km northwest of the provincial capital Pristina.

According to the international monitoring mission in Kosovo, shooting began when a Serbian police convoy came under attack from KLA fighters.

The Serbian security forces sent in reinforcements, and there was an exchange of heavy artillery fire before the army column pulled back.

[ image: A local villager weeps at the destruction caused near  Vucitrn]
A local villager weeps at the destruction caused near Vucitrn
Local people were seen temporarily leaving the area, but the international observers said there was no evidence to suggest that the Serbian police had begun separating men from women and children, as had been reported.

Local KLA fighters said three people has sustained shrapnel injuries from the fighting.

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