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U.S., Contact Group Send Observers to Kosovo

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 21, 1998 – The six-nation Contact Group is sending observers to Kosovo even as NATO officials here accelerate their planning options to quell violence in the Serbian province.

The United States, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, France and Italy launched the Kosovo Observer Mission July 6, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the next day in Washington.

"Its mission is to observe and report on the general freedom of movement throughout Kosovo," he said. "It's a peaceful mission. They don't have a mandate to resolve problems."

The United States will send six two-person diplomatic teams, Rubin said. All observers will be in white vehicles, identified by a national flag and signs indicating diplomatic observers. Observers will also wear identifying armbands.

He said observers will gather accurate, independent information on the overall security conditions and activities in Kosovo and on the situation of internally displaced people. Their presence also may act as a deterrent.

The Contact Group seeks a peaceful solution for Kosovo. Rubin said the member nations want both sides to realize violence is only making the situation worse. International officials seek a compromise between ethnic Albanians' demands for independence and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's steadfast rejection.

"That's what caused the problem -- him stripping Kosovar Albanians of their rights and radicalizing the population with the use of force," Rubin said. Reaching a negotiated outcome is going to involve "long, hard slogging," he said.

In the near term, the Contact Group wants to see the withdrawal of Serb forces involved in the crackdown and to gain access for humanitarian organizations. International officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Chris Hill, are trying to develop objectives both sides can agree to negotiate, Rubin said.

At the same time diplomatic endeavors are under way, Rubin said, NATO's contingency planning continues on an accelerated basis to meet various options proposed by NATO military and political authorities.

"We believe that this is a case where planning for the use of force is justified," Rubin said. "We believe that there is a threat to international peace and security that has been created by the refugees pouring out of the borders. There are tens of thousands of refugees in neighboring lands."

The State Department official said the U.S. perspective is that the Kosovo crisis affects national security. "We've made very clear that this situation, depending on how it evolves, affects the national security of the United States because it affects the stability of Europe," Rubin said.

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