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Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 20:55 GMT 21:55 UK

World: Europe

Yugoslavia allows moderate abroad

Ibrahim Rugova (left) arrives on Italian soil

The Yugoslav Government has allowed the moderate Kosovo Albanian political leader, Ibrahim Rugova, to travel abroad for the first time since the beginning of the Nato air campaign.

Mr Rugova, who has reportedly been living under house arrest in Pristina, was taken to Rome with his family by a special Italian flight and went straight into talks with the Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema.

Kosovo: Special Report
Since the Nato strikes began, Mr Rugova has held highly publicised meetings with President Milosevic and called for an end to the bombing.

Western politicians have described him as under Serb control and have demanded he be allowed to travel to the West.

The Italian Government said he had Belgrade's permission to leave, although some confusion remains over the reason for the decision.

David Willey in Rome: For now his residence is remaining secret
BBC Correspondent in Belgrade Jacky Rowland says President Milosevic may feel that Mr Rugova's peace attempts will be more credibile if he speaks from exile.

Although Mr Rugova is known as the elected president of the Kosovo Albanians, our correspondent says he lost support when he entered talks with President Slobodan Milosevic after the Nato bombing campaign began.

Last week he signed an agreement with Belgrade paving the way for more peace talks on the province and Serbian media have also quoted him as calling for an end to the air strikes.

Living 'under constraints'

Reports were rife that Dr Rugova was living under house arrest in Pristina and had been operating under severe constraints.

[ image: A walk with the Italian prime minister]
A walk with the Italian prime minister
His associates and journalists who spent time with him in the early days of the air strikes say the Serbian police ordered him to co-operate or face the consequences.

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea said it was good news that Mr Rugova had been allowed to leave, and hoped he could now speak freely.

Observers have been divided over Dr Rugova's behaviour since the bombing began.

Some accuse him of collaborating with the Serbs, while others say he deserves respect for refusing to flee Kosovo.

In the pipeline

Rome Correspondent David Willey says the arrival has been in the pipeline for several weeks.

Italian diplomats, backed up by Vatican envoys, had asked President Milosevic that he be allowed to come to Rome for his own safety.

For the moment his residence is being kept secret and the Italian Government has guaranteed his security.

The Saint Egidio Community, a Roman Catholic lay group, sent a mission to Yugoslavia last month requesting that Mr Rugova be allowed to come to Rome for negotiations on the future of Kosovo.

A spokesman for the community, which carries out parallel diplomacy in many of the world's trouble-spots, said that the Milosevic government had been divided over whether to allow him to come and that the issue of Mr Rugova's security had been the sticking point.

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