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Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 03:24 GMT

World: Europe

Rebels meet over Kosovo peace

Serb police inspect the site of an ambush near Pristina

Senior commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the group fighting for independence in the Serbian province, met late into the night to decide whether to sign up to an international peace plan.

Kosovo Section
The proposal requires the KLA to disarm and does not include their demand for a referendum on independence. One report says a decision will be made later on Monday.

The meeting is thought to be taking place in the hills west of the provincial capital, Pristina.

Jacky Rowland in Kosovo: "Serbia has strong objections to foreign troops on its territory"
The American mediator and former US Senator, Bob Dole, has said he is convinced the Kosovo Liberation Army will accept the deal along with the other ethnic Albanian factions.

However, this may be delayed by the announcement that the man who was to witness their signature, US ambassador Christopher Hill, will not now arrive in Kosovo until Monday.

If the ethnic Albanians do sign, it will immediately intensify pressure on the Serbs to do likewise, or face Nato airstrikes.

Mr Dole, who met Kosovo Albanian representatives in Macedonia on Friday, said it would take courage to sign up to the peace plan.

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But he added: "They indicated many times they will keep their word and I think they will keep their word and they will sign [on Sunday]."

However, the Serbs remained defiant on Saturday. In a letter to the six world powers involved in the peace process, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic denounced the latest US moves as ''manipulations".

He said the ethnic Albanians were being forced to sign a ''non-existent agreement'' which was different to the deal discussed at last month's peace conference in France.

No half measures

Despite Mr Dole's optimism, western officials cautioned that the ethnic Albanians may not sign immediately. And a senior Kosovo Albanian leader, Fehmi Agani, also said it would more likely happen early in the week.

Kosovo Albanian Republic spokesman Bagram Gecay: Most ethnic Albanians back the deal
On the ground some senior KLA guerrillas still appeared unconvinced.

KLA chief commander, Suleiman Selimi, told a rally marking the first anniversary of a Serb army operation that killed more than 50 Kosovo Albanians, that half measures were not enough.

"Any solution not leading to full independence is unacceptable," he told the cheering crowd.

The international plan for Kosovo gives the province wide ranging autonomy, but postpones any decision on its final status for at least three years.

It has been accepted by political representatives of the Kosovo Albanians but not, so far, by Serbia which remains opposed to any deployment of Nato troops to police the deal.

The international community wants the ethnic Albanians and the Belgrade Government to sign the agreement before or at a peace conference due to start in Paris on 15 March - the follow-up to last month's inconclusive talks.

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