U.S., allies warn Serbs on Kosovo Milosevic gets 10 days to end crackdown on ethnic Albanians

'Deja vu all over again'

Failure to comply could mean sanctions atop arms embargo

March 10, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Using a new arms embargo and an ultimatum, the United States and five other nations moved yesterday to blunt Serbia's crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, where dozens of deaths have imperiled the peace in the often volatile Balkan region.

The governments also gave Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic a 10-day deadline to withdraw special police units from Kosovo and open talks with moderate Albanians in the province. If Milosevic does not comply, Serbia faces additional sanctions from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.

"We obviously are going to keep our eye on the ball and make sure this agreement will stick," U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said at the close of talks involving the six-nation contact group, created in the wake of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Saying that "it was deja vu all over again," Albright reminded the other diplomats that in 1991, the West stood by as Yugoslavia disintegrated and went to war with itself. That war reached its zenith of brutality in Bosnia, where Milosevic's army went to fight.

"Once again, President Milosevic is playing with fire," she said in prepared remarks to the other government ministers. "Once again, he has tried to solve his problems not with the force of argument, but with the argument of brute force."

The stakes couldn't be any greater. The Balkans, long a source of conflict, are heating up again, as Serbia tries to exert control over Kosovo, where Albanians outnumber Serbs by a ratio of 9-to-1 in a population of about 2 million. Diplomats fear that if the situation in Kosovo disintegrates and violence spills over to Macedonia, the conflict could draw in other countries, including Albania, Greece and Turkey.

The London meeting was held as thousands of ethnic Albanians in the regional capital, Pristina, staged their biggest demonstration in a decade as heavily armed Serbian riot police looked on. Normally, such a demonstration would have been quashed by authorities.

The province was plunged into violence last week with Serbian police raiding two villages west of Pristina in a bid to crack down on a group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has been fighting for independence from Serbia, the dominant power in former Yugoslavia.

Kosovo was an autonomous province of Serbia until 1989, when Milosevic stripped autonomy from the majority Albanian population.

Serbian authorities claimed that 46 Albanians and six police were killed in an operation they said was concluded Sunday. Ethnic Albanians said the death toll was much higher, with claims that one sweep left 62 dead, including 14 women and 12 children.

Dozens of bodies lined in two rows and covered by a white sheet were piled in a construction yard in the town of Srbica, 25 miles west of Pristina. Relatives declined to pick up the bodies and pressed for autopsies by an international panel of forensic experts, a spokesman of the Albanians' Kosovo Information Center told the Associated Press.

An Associated Press TV crew filmed a body that Serbian authorities claimed was Adem Jashari, who was identified as the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said there was a sense of "shock, dismay and deep concern" at the death toll.

"We have made it clear that we cannot support the violent repression of the nonviolent expression of political views," he said.

London's stately Lancaster House was the scene of frantic diplomatic maneuvering yesterday as officials tried to fashion a statement that hit Milosevic in his arsenal and his wallet. Albright, Cook and German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel worked by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, who was in Moscow.

The Russians finally agreed to support a United Nations Security Council resolution for an arms embargo against former Yugoslavia and Kosovo, effectively denying weapons to both sides in the conflict. They also signed on to a proposal to refuse to supply equipment that "might be used for international repression or for terrorism."

But the Russians declined to support measures endorsed by the other five: to deny visas to senior officials in former Yugoslavia and those responsible for repres- sive actions in Kosovo, and to block financial assistance for export credits and government financing for privatization of Serbia's state-run industries.

The Russians agreed to consider the additional sanctions if the situation did not improve. The contact group is due to meet again March 25.

The ministers also called on Milosevic to open the region to the International Committee of the Red Cross, other humanitarian organizations and diplomats. If repression continues in Kosovo, the document said, the contact group would "pursue a freeze on the funds held abroad" by the former Yugoslav and Serbian governments.

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