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Sunday, August 29, 1999 Published at 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK

World: Europe

Holbrooke: 'No partition in Kosovo'

Ambassador Holbrooke gets a warm welcome from Ibrahim Rugova

The new US ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, has said partition is not the solution to Kosovo's continuing political problems.

During a three day visit to the province - his first overseas trip since taking up the UN post - Mr Holbrooke is meeting a series of military and political leaders.

"No-one is contemplating the partition of Kosovo," Ambassador Holbrooke told a news conference, while standing alongside General Sir Mike Jackson, the commander of K-For troops in the region.

[ image: Mr Holbrook and General Sir Mike Jackson]
Mr Holbrook and General Sir Mike Jackson
The question has arisen because around 170,000 Serb people have left the province in the past few months.

The 30,000 Serbs who remain say they are subjected to continual aggression and intimidation by Kosovo Albanians.

Mr Holbrooke warned that forging the peace in Kosovo was "more difficult than winning the war".

Yugoslav criticism rejected

The head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, has meanwhile vigorously defended the UN's work in the province.

This follows criticism from the Yugoslav government that the mission has been slow and inept.

Mr Kouchner, speaking during a break in talks with Mr Holbrooke, said that after months of massacres and years of oppression, it was impossible to change the mentality of people quickly.

Russians playing 'a legitimate role'

Mr Holbrooke, for his part, acknowledged that the presence of some 3,000 Russian peacekeepers was causing "strong passions" among the hostile Albanian community in Kosovo, adding that he was "struck by the animosity of the Albanians toward the Russians".

Kosovo: Special Report
The Kosovo Albanians believe the Russian peacekeepers to be allies of the Serbs - but Mr Holbrooke insisted that they were playing "a legitimate role" in Kosovo and were part of the peace process.

General Jackson added that there had been no breakthrough in the week-long stand-off between Russian troops and the people of the southern town of Orahovac.

[ image: Mr Holbrooke with Hashim Thaci]
Mr Holbrooke with Hashim Thaci
"But the incident is acting as a catalyst to bring all sides together," he said.

Earlier, Ambassador Holbrooke visited the site of three mass graves at Cikatova, west of the Kosovo capital.

Some 129 bodies have so far been recovered from the Cikatova site. But reports say identification has been difficult because the bodies are in an advanced stage of decomposition.

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