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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK

World: Europe

Pope calls for Easter ceasefire

Nato has so far refused to suspend its campaign against Yugoslavia

The Pope has called on the United States, Yugoslavia and Nato to observe an Easter ceasefire over Kosovo, calling it a "great humanitarian gesture".

Kosovo: Special Report
Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran travelled to Belgrade to deliver Pope John Paul II's special message to Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic.

Archbishop Tauran also met leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The Pope wrote similar letters appealing for peace to US President Bill Clinton and Nato Secretary-General Javier Solana - the latest in a series of pleas from the Vatican to the combatants in the Kosovo conflict to return to the negotiating table.

[ image: Papal envoy Archbishop Tauran delivered the peace message]
Papal envoy Archbishop Tauran delivered the peace message
The Vatican said in a statement: "His Holiness ... would consider it a great humanitarian gesture if all military action would be suspended" during the week that separates Catholic and Orthodox celebrations of Easter.

"Certainly, an initiative like this must be accompanied by practical measures so no-one can take advantage of this period to press their own objectives," the Vatican said.

The ceasefire would enable humanitarian organisations to resume "their urgent and essential work".

But Nato has ruled out any suggestion of suspending its bombing of Yugoslavia. President Clinton said stopping the air strikes over Easter would enable President Milosevic to step up his aggression.

"We can't observe Easter and honour the resurrection of Christ by allowing him another free day to kill more innocent civilians," the US president said.

Milosevic's hopes

Mr Milosevic's office said "the president greatly appreciated the efforts by the Pope to end Nato's criminal aggression".

The Yugoslav president expressed hope that "forces struggling for good, truth and justice shall prevail over forces reaching out for crime and aggression against another country and its peoples".

But in Brussels, a spokesman for Nato said: "We can only stop when Milosevic stops."

"We've made it clear we would welcome any initiative but naturally the goal has to be to stop the violence in Kosovo and has to come from Milosevic," the spokesman said.

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