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Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 16:21 GMT

World: Europe

Albanians up Kosovo stakes

While negotiators disagree, villages are being torched

Kosovar Albanians are expected to sign a peace plan for the province which would clear the way for Nato military action against Serbia.

The deal is due to be signed at 1730 GMT in Paris, where final attempts to reach an agreement between the Serbians and ethnic Albanians have been taking place.

Kosovo Section
Serbia is amassing troops in the province prompting fears of all-out war if the talks collapse. It has steadfastly refused to agree to the peace plan on the grounds that it will not accept the deployment of Nato troops to enforce the deal.

James Rubin: "The Serbs refuse to choose peace"
A decision on whether to suspend the talks is due to be made on Thursday by the British and French co-chairmen, Robin Cook and Hubert Vedrine.

Our correspondent at the talks in Paris says it is possible the talks could be adjourned for a limited period in order to give Belgrade time to make up its mind finally.

Conflict warning

The Russian mediator at the talks has said discussions should carry on as long as there is time and hope.

However Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has urged Yugoslavia to sign a political agreement, saying failed peace talks could lead to a larger conflict in the Balkans.

Mr Ivanov encouraged Belgrade to sign the political agreement now, and sort out questions about implementation later.

The United States and western European countries have made it clear they see little point in continuing discussions with Serbia.

The BBC's Peter Biles: The Russians say the talks should continue
American negotiator Christopher Hill said: "Based on the last few days with the Yugoslav side, we would not anticipate any further progress."

Since the second round of peace talks began on Monday, the Serbs have raised new objections to the deal, in addition to their original rejection of a Nato-led implementation force.

Barnaby Mason reports: "International unity was clearly fading"
Nato has threatened to launch air strikes if the Serbs continue to reject the peace plan.

Our Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason says Washington believes that if Russia accepted talks had failed, it would help convince some doubtful European members of Nato that force is the only remaining option.

Violence continues

[ image: Refugees are fleeing Serb forces]
Refugees are fleeing Serb forces
The talks have been held against a backdrop of renewed attacks by Serb forces on ethnic Albanian villages in Kosovo, and a reported build up of Serb troops in and around Kosovo.

The talks were also given added urgency on Wednesday when a Finnish forensic team concluded that the 45 ethnic Albanians killed in Racak in January were unarmed civilians - contrary to Serb claims.

The long-awaited report said the killings were a "crime against humanity" but stopped short of branding them a massacre.

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