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Monday, February 22, 1999 Published at 14:15 GMT

Analysis: The obstacles to a deal

Serbs in Germany protest at plans for a NATO-led deployment

By South-East Europe Analyst Gabriel Partos

There are two key problems facing the mediators at Rambouillet: the Kosovar Albanians' indirect demand for independence and Serbia's refusal to accept a NATO-led force to police the agreement now on offer.

Of these two question marks over the draft accords, the easier one to remove is almost certainly the ethnic Albanians' demand.

It is true that the Kosovar Albanians are still holding out for a guarantee that after the three-year interim agreement now under discussion runs out, there should be a referendum on independence.

With pro-independence ethnic Albanians making up 90% Kosovo's population, the result of such a referendum would be a foregone conclusion.

The six-power Contact Group that has convened the Rambouillet conference is opposed to Kosovo's independence; and its members have made it clear from the very beginning that there could be no commitment to independence in the interim agreement.

Incentives for the Albanians

Although this is a heavy blow to Kosovar Albanian inspirations, they don't have to give up their dreams for the future because the draft accord is not believed to rule out explicitly Kosovo's independence at some stage in the future.

The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who has joined the final phase of the talks at Rambouillet, has said she believes the ethnic Albanians will agree to the deal.

The Kosovar Albanians have two strong incentives to sign up.

[ image: Supply lines to the KLA could be cut off]
Supply lines to the KLA could be cut off
Mrs Albright has told them if they don't fall in line, the major powers will do their best to cut off the supply lines of the ethnic Albanians' guerrilla force, the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Nor would NATO use air strikes against Serbia for its refusal to agree to the stationing of foreign troops in Kosovo unless the Kosovar Albanians put their signatures to the peace deal.

Serbs pose greater problem

Serbia's resistance to the deployment of a peace implementation force appears to be a more serious obstacle to a deal.

[ image: Serb President Milan Milutinovic: Belgrade could be the main obstable]
Serb President Milan Milutinovic: Belgrade could be the main obstable
Yet the need for such a force has been demonstrated once again by renewed fighting in northern Kosovo near Vucitrn on Monday, and by a Serbian police officer's assault on two observers of the unarmed international verification mission on Sunday near the northern town of Podujevo.

There is still some expectation that Belgrade will come up with an eleventh-hour counter-proposal, perhaps to substitute a UN contingent in place of a NATO-led force.

But even that seems less likely following the latest remarks of the Serbian President, Milan Milutinovic, who has said that his side will not agree to the deployment, as he put it, "of any kind of foreign troops" in Yugoslavia.

If Belgrade's position doesn't change, the countdown to possible NATO air strikes will begin on Tuesday afternoon.

But if the American-led bombing takes place, it will not only damage Serbia's military potential but also expose the widening divisions within the Contact Group where Russia continues to oppose the use of force.

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