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Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 14:44 GMT

Analysis: The Albanian dimension

Belgrade says it will not sit with the "terrorist" KLA

By European Regional Analyst Jonathan Stoneman

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are coming under sustained pressure to forget their differences and attend peace talks with Serbia before the end of this week.

Serbia has yet to say if it will be attending the talks.

The special American envoy, Christopher Hill, has travelled to the Kosovan capital, Pristina, to try to persuade the political leadership of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army to attend the talks alongside the elected ethnic-Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova.

But one of the many difficulties to be resolved is deciding who really speaks for the Kosovar Albanians.

No single voice

[ image: Who speaks for Kosovo's ethnic Albanians?]
Who speaks for Kosovo's ethnic Albanians?
The British and French foreign ministers - the hosts for the peace talks at Rambouillet in France - have both said that so far nobody has refused to attend.

That seem to be the best gloss they can put on events so far, but there is still time for the invitation to be rejected.

It is quite likely that both sides are waiting to see who does accept. The Serbs have indicated that they are unwilling to sit at the same table as the people they regard as terrorists - the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The KLA has said it will decide whether to attend within the next few days. So far, the leader of the ethnic Albanians, Ibrahim Rugova, has said yes.

Peaceful resistance

Before the fighting began last year, Mr Rugova would have been seen as the obvious voice of the Kosovar Albanians - but now it is clear that he is not seen that way even by his own side.

The KLA's leaders have long argued that Mr Rugova's strategy of peaceful resistance got the Albanians of Kosovo nowhere, and that the KLA brought the province to the brink of independence through force.

They are now concerned that the prospect of full independence is receding - hence the insistence by the United States' special envoy, Christopher Hill that the KLA are not being asked to give up that goal.

It may be difficult to convince them that their demands are going to be met by the kind of limited autonomy on offer, whatever the guarantees from the international community, which underpin it.

If the KLA refuse to attend the Rambouillet talks, it is hard to see them having much effect on the ground in Kosovo.

And if they agree - the harder it will be to get the Serbs to attend.

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