Holbrooke fails to reach breakthrough on Kosovo U.S. envoy is rebuffed, leaves to brief NATO

October 08, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke left talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic yesterday apparently having failed to achieve a breakthrough to end the crisis over the Serbian crackdown in Kosovo.

For 12 hours over three days, Washington's top Balkan trouble-shooter and his long-time bargaining rival met behind closed doors to examine the issues that divide the West from Yugoslavia, and which have brought the Balkans to the brink of NATO airstrikes.

But Holbrooke left here without saying a word to the press, en route to brief Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright in Brussels, Belgium, where NATO is headquartered.

"Holbrooke came here for some very grim and sober discussions to lay out where we are," said a U.S. diplomat, who requested anonymity. Referring to rumors that Holbrooke might return here for more discussions, the diplomat said: "I can't confirm that there are any additional travel plans at this point."

Yugoslavia's independent BK TV reported that Milosevic told Holbrooke NATO threats and a foreign media campaign against Yugoslavia "are obstructing the continuation of the political process," to settle the Kosovo crisis.

Since fighting erupted in February in the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs 9 to 1, hundreds have been killed and more than 250,000 have lost their homes. Villages have been razed, civilians have been massacred and relief agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster as winter weather fast approaches in the rugged terrain where refugees have sought shelter.

Reacting to threats of airstrikes, Britain and France urged their citizens and unessential diplomatic personnel to leave Yugoslavia.

Yet even as Western leaders continued the war of words over possible NATO attacks, there were growing signs of indecision and strain over using missiles and warplanes to bring the Kosovo crisis to a close.

While the United States and Britain continued to talk loudest about using force, Russia again expressed reservations over punishing its traditional allies. Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin voiced his misgivings during a call yesterday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Kremlin said that Yeltsin "underlined that such developments would be disastrous for global peace and drastically change the situation" in the region.

But in a speech in Beijing, Blair said, "President Milosevic may think the international community will not act. But in the end it will act, and we're at the end now, and he must listen to our warnings or face the consequences."

After days of claiming that NATO preparations for a strike were on a "fast track," U.S. officials began to slightly backpedal. State Department spokesman James Rubin said there was no consensus for military action.

"We are continuing to push for early action," Rubin said while in Israel with Albright. "Nobody is in a rush to use force."

Later, Albright told CNBC, "We don't want to use force as an end. But the threat of force as a means to get him to understand that he has to comply with the U.N. demand, including withdrawal of forces, allowing humanitarian help for displaced people and starting political talks with the ethnic Albanians."

Albright was due to meet NATO officials and Holbrooke in Brussels today. Later, she is expected to fly to London for a meeting of foreign ministers of the six nations of the contact group on Yugoslavia.

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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