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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 16:52 GMT

World: Europe

Serb changes refused

About 9,000 people have fled the fighting

International negotiators will not consider a Serb set of amendments to the Kosovo peace deal, Western officials at the peace talks in Paris have said.

Kosovo Section
The mediators told the Serbian delegation that they would not consider Belgrade's proposals because they raised issues of substance and would reopen key parts of the Rambouillet agreement.

The Serbs had asked for substantial changes to the text of the constitutional proposals for Kosovo self-government.

Barnaby Mason: Scene set for clash between Serbs and Western negotiators
The international negotiators told the Serbs that they would only consider technical adjustments, such as minor changes in terminology.

The negotiators emphasised that they wanted to start immediately discussions on the implementation of the deal, including elections, policing and, above all, the deployment of a Nato-led military force in Kosovo.

BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason says that the Serbs were essentially told they had to drop their rooted objection to an international force, although there could be cosmetic changes to make the deal more palatable.

Western officials have said they will give the Serbs only another day or two. If there is no progress, the peace conference is likely to be suspended, with a last mission to Belgrade the only remaining diplomatic gambit.

Flood of refugees

Paul Royall: Despite political breakthroughs in Paris, Kosovo's conflict continues
In Kosovo itself, about 9,000 people have fled fighting since the peace talks resumed on Monday, the United Nations has said.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Kris Janowski, said that Serbian artillery and tanks had been firing at villages in response to what the Serbs said were provocations from the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Reports on Tuesday said fighting had resumed north of the provincial capital, Pristina, with three villages set on fire as the Serb forces continued their attacks.

Pressure on Serbs

On Monday, the Kosovo Albanians agreed to accept the peace plan, which allowed the mediators to focus on trying to get the Serb delegation to follow suit.

Angus Roxburgh reports: "They were enjoying themselves destroying property"
After the Albanian acceptance was reported, US President Bill Clinton repeated the warning that if the Serbs did not follow suit, Nato would be forced to begin air strikes.

However, in a sign of possible discord among the international mediators, the Russian negotiator said the military implementation part of the deal had been drafted behind Russia's back, Itar-Tass news agency reported.

[ image:  ]
The internationally brokered deal gives Kosovo extensive autonomy for a three-year period - but not the independence many ethnic Albanians want. It also requires the Kosovo Liberation Army to lay down its arms.

The Serbs have repeated that they will never accept Nato peacekeepers in the province to police the settlement - a key requirement of the Western powers in the international Contact Group.

The Serbs say it amounts to foreign occupation and the start of independence for Kosovo.

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