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Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 06:31 GMT

World: Europe

Milosevic defiant on Kosovo

Diplomacy at the 11th hour: Mr Holbrooke meets President Milosevic

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has warned the West against using force to try to solve the crisis in Kosovo.

Kosovo Section
With Nato poised to unleash its war planes and missiles on Yugoslavia if it fails to sign up to a peace deal for the troubled province, the Yugoslav president told US special envoy Richard Holbrooke that trying to impose a solution would have untold consequences.

The two men met in Belgrade in an 11th-hour attempt to try to resolve the Kosovo conflict by peaceful means. The Yugoslav state news agency Tanjug reported that President Milosevic had called for peace talks to continue.

Nick Thorpe reports: Serbia "will resist any Nato attacks"
"To stick with a decision to end talks before they have even started would mean abandoning peaceful, political means.

"A commitment of both the government and the people of our country to a peaceful settlement of problems in Kosovo is firm and lasting.

"Anyone who tries to impose solutions by force will have to take the responsibility for actions against the policy of peace and face the ensuing consequences," President Milosevic said.

American officials said that Mr Holbrooke was likely to make another attempt later on Tuesday to persuade the Yugoslav leader to sign a peace deal.

Discord over strikes

US President Bill Clinton backed up his envoy's warning to Mr Milosevic that the threat of military action was looming.

[ image: Mr Annan said 25,000 civilians had fled in the latest Serbian offensive]
Mr Annan said 25,000 civilians had fled in the latest Serbian offensive
"If President Milosevic continues to choose aggression over peace, Nato's military plans must continue to move forward," he told reporters at the White House.

But in Moscow, Russia Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov urged the US and its allies not to launch air strikes against Yugoslavia.

"We believe that political levers to influence the situation are far from being exhausted yet," Mr Primakov said, a day before he was to head to Washington for meetings with President Clinton.

Nato beefs up plans

As talks to secure an agreement were drawing to a close, Nato Secretary-General Javier Solana was reported to have toughened the alliance's plan of action against the Serbs.

David Shukman in Brussels: "Nato are talking about a swift campaign with a huge number of aircraft"
The BBC Defence Correspondent, Mark Laity, says Nato's revised plan allows for a wide range of targets in the first phase of any attack. The original plan was to target only Yugoslav air defences in the first phase.

Mr Solana will also be able to order a move to the next phase of the air campaign without further formal permission from the Nato allies.

Nato and the United Nations want the Serbs to sign the peace agreement which would allow for the presence of an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, and for a degree of autonomy for the province.

The ethnic Albanians, who are seeking self-rule for the province, have already accepted the proposals.

Yugoslav offensive

Despite last-ditch diplomatic efforts, tensions were mounting in Kosovo itself amid reports that a major offensive by Yugoslav security forces against ethnic Albanian civilians and the KLA had caused many thousands to flee.

John Simpson in Belgrade: "To back down now would seem like surrender for President Milosevic"
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on Yugoslavia to halt its military offensive, protect civilians and cooperate with peace negotiators.

In a statement, Mr Annan urged "the Yugoslav authorities to halt their military offensive in Kosovo which clearly violates the ceasefire agreement of last October (and) to act to alleviate the humanitarian situation".

By Monday night, the violence had spread to the regional capital Pristina, where there were reports of explosions at two ethnic Albanian owned cafes. Serbian sources said that two people were killed and four others injured.

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