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Contact Group Condemns Kosovo Violence

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, March 12, 1998 – The United States, the United Kingdom and other European nations strongly condemn recent violence against ethnic-Albanians in the southern Serb province of Kosovo.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright told a six-nation contact group focused on the situation, "President [Slobodan] Milosevic is playing with fire." He is again using "brute force" rather than "the force of argument" to solve his problems, she said.

Albright met in London March 9 with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and representatives from Russia, France, Italy and Germany to discuss growing violence that has reportedly killed 80 ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo is rapidly becoming "a very dangerous situation" with "very serious consequences for all involved," Army Gen. Wesley Clark told House and Senate members in Washington a few days earlier. Serb police reinforcements are moving into the area from elsewhere in Yugoslavia to counter the Kosovar-Albanian underground liberation army, NATO's supreme allied commander noted.

NATO officials fear conflict in Kosovo could spread to neighboring nations, destabilizing the region where so much effort has already been spent bringing peace to Bosnia. In February, NATO authorities decided to continue indefinitely the stabilization force mission in Bosnia to continue providing security as the peace accord takes hold.

As in Bosnia, the possibility of ethnic conflict has also long been festering in Kosovo, according to NATO officials. More than 200,000 Albanians who make up about 90 percent of the population seek independence to escape a long pattern of repression. NATO officials say Kosovar Albanians are prevented from using their own langauge and receiving higher education. The 10 percent Serb minority hold all positions of power in the province.

Serb authorities have responded to recent challenges by Albanian pro-liberation forces with a bloody crackdown.

"In recent days, we have received credible reports that security forces have mortared villages, burned houses, conducted extrajudicial executions and killed pregnant women and elderly people who could not possibly have been a threat to them," Albright said in London. Western observers and even Red Cross officials have been denied access to the area, she added.

"Unity and resolve," are called for, Albright said. And action must be prompt, not delayed as it was in Bosnia. "It took us seven years to bring Bonsia to this moment of hope," she said.

"...This time, we must respond before it is too late."

By his actions, Milosevic has spurned recent international incentives to ease pressure against Serbia, Albright said. She called on the contact group to adopt new measures to deny the Serb leader resources needed to keep his police state running.

Stopping the killing will not be enough to resolve the crisis, Albright noted. "Too much damage has already been done. If the Former Republic of Yugoslavia wishes to ease its isolation, it must show that it is ready to shift from repression to a search for a genuine political solution."

Kosovo's problems will not be easily solved, Albright said, but Bosnia's success to date is evidence a solution is possible. "The people of Kosovo are watching to see what we will do, they would like to believe there is an alternative to desperate acts of lonely vengeance Let us show them that with the world's help, such a solution will be possible."

Cook said the contact group issued a statement outlining a plan to bring stability to the southern province. It includes continuing the U.N. preventive deployment mission in Macedonia, seeking U.N. Security Council approval for an arms embargo and imposing additional sanctions.

The contact group did not discuss military intervention to resolve the crisis, Cook said. "That was not on the agenda at the present time. But we have adopted some very tough measures, a very clear action plan."

Russia, Cook noted, only agreed to some of the restrictions, but will support the full package if Belgrade does not comply with specific steps the contact group is calling for.

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