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Saturday, February 6, 1999 Published at 21:16 GMT

Chirac: The world is watching

Delegates listening to President Chirac's words

French President Jacques Chirac opened the Kosovo talks at Rambouillet outside Paris with a reminder to the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians that this was an historic moment. The following is the full text of his address:

Ministers. Gentlemen. there are rare moments when history is in the hands of a few men. Such is the case today for you who are about to take your places around the negotiations table.

It is the future of Kosovo, but above all the future of the women, men and children who live in that land whose destinies you will be determining.

'Substantial autonomy'

The framework for these negotiations has been clearly defined by the Contact Group. The principles of a substantial autonomy will be presented to you.

It will be your task to elaborate on them and give them substance, so that, within the existing borders, all the inhabitants of the province, whatever their origin, may live in peace and enjoy respect for their persons and for their rights.

Instead of engaging in sterile and pointless battles, I hope that your talks will lead you towards practical measures through which the desired autonomy would be translated into facts, day after day, so peace returns to the minds and hearts.

You have the choice between continuing past tragedies or the hope of life which is beginning to take shape.

This is not about forgetting. Nobody can forget the lost son or the destroyed village. Here again, justice must be done and the guilty ones must be tried.

'You are part of Europe'

As you know, France has experienced the horrors of war. It has encountered the face of barbarism.

However, it managed to nurse the injuries that were thought to last forever. It managed to obliterate the feelings of hatred that were thought to be ancestral.

Today, it tells you that the determination to build peace can be stronger that the temptation to wage war.

This message is all meaningful here, in this very place, where General de Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer build the future.

In building peace you must also cast your eyes towards a new horizon, that of Europe.

You represent peoples who fully belong in Europe. And this is also why the idea of a war in Kosovo is so unbearable to us.

Europe has succeeded in reconciling enemy nations. It has succeeded in healing the fracture of the Cold War which divided it for 50 years.

Today, with its partners, it commits itself, at your side, to the search for a peaceful resolution.

Conflict 'not tolerated'

In urging you to make this peace, I invite you to make your own the values of liberty, democracy and tolerance which constitute the very foundation of the European Union.

It will be thus that you will resume your place in the European family.

Here too lies one of the major challenges of the conference opening today.

The international community has unanimously mobilised itself. Its action is aimed against no-one, it is exercised to the benefit of all.

But I must tell you that France, just like its European, American or Russian partners, will not tolerate the continuation of a conflict that mocks the essential principles of human dignity.

We will not allow this spreading cycle of violence to threaten the stability of the whole of southeastern Europe. We want peace on our continent.

International deployment 'necessary'

To the representatives of the Contact Group, and to the British and French ministers, in particular, who were entrusted with the mission of chairing these meetings, I express all my trust.

Supported by the Security Council, thus by the whole of the international community, equipped by all the means that had been put at its disposal, the Contact Group has the necessary authority to ensure the triumph of law, justice and peace.

Beyond this, supporting measures that are necessary to the implementation of the agreement must be considered.

The OSCE will have a role to play, continuing the action already undertaken by the verification mission in Kosovo, whose brave and efficient work I salute.

An international deployment agreed upon by everyone seems necessary to us to guarantee the silence of weapons.

Be assured that France, as it has done before when conflicts first emerged in former Yugoslavia, will take all its responsibilities. It owes it to its European ambition.

It also owes it to the memory of its sons who died on the Yugoslav soil for the ideal of peace, dignity and freedom which we will continue to serve with determination.

'Peace is in your hands'

To the representatives of the two parties, Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, I say: peace is in your hands.

I appeal to your sense of responsibility. I appeal to your courage.

Not the courage that leads to war, vengeance and an endless cycle of absurd violence, but the true courage, greater and nobler, which is the courage to accept to negotiate and make peace.

Ladies and gentlemen. The next few days will accord you a unique opportunity to enter a decisive stage towards reconciliation, to enter a process leading to substantial autonomy for Kosovo with respect for everyone's rights.

It will take perseverance and unfailing will power. But be assured that by the time you leave Rambouillet a page of European history will have been turned.

I urge you to make the forces of life overcome the forces of death.

The eyes of the world are upon you. The world is waiting for you. Thank you very much.

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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