U.S. envoy bears down on Milosevic, warns of NATO ‘collision course’
As duo talk, Yugoslav offensive in Kosovo puts 4,000 to flight
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- A top U.S. troubleshooter held crisis talks Wednesday with Slobodan Milosevic, pushing for a Kosovo settlement even as Yugoslav forces staged an offensive in the province that sent 4,000 refugees fleeing.
The envoy, Richard Holbrooke, met with fellow Western diplomats and ambassadors of the six-nation Balkan Contact Group before going to the Yugoslav president's palace for talks aimed at breaking down Milosevic's resistance to a U.S.-drafted peace plan.Talks recessed after 3 1/2 hours but were expected to resume in the evening after Holbrooke consulted with officials in Washington.
Holbrooke warned before the talks that Milosevic could be on a "collision course" with NATO, which has threatened airstrikes if a settlement over Kosovo isn't agreed to by both Yugoslav forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.
In Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged Congress Wednesday to put off votes on Kosovo policy during this time of ultradelicate negotiations, saying it would "complicate our efforts" to broker a peace.
"A vote at any time to oppose an authori- zation would be taken by both sides as a green light to resume fighting," Albright told a House Appropriations subcommittee.
The House has scheduled a full floor debate for Thursday on whether U.S. troops should be sent to Kosovo. A Senate vote on the same issue could come as early as next week.
Senior sources close to Wednesday's talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Holbrooke offered Milosevic a partial lifting of stiff economic and political sanctions imposed against Yugoslavia in exchange for his approval of the peace deal.
But there was no hint of a softening in Yugoslav opposition to the plan, especially the provision calling for 28,000 NATO troops -- including 4,000 Americans -- to come to Kosovo to police the deal.
And it appeared the ethnic Albanians were backsliding on their pledge to sign on, too.
On Monday, U.S. officials said the KLA indicated it would sign the deal, which gives the ethnic Albanians broad autonomy in the secessionist-minded province but not the independence they seek.
However, the KLA representative in London, Pleurat Sejdiu, said in an interview with BBC World television Wednesday that the rebels would "not sign up while the war is going on in Kosovo" and there are "attacks on our villages."
KLA spokesman Jakup Krasniqi, one of the rebel leaders who supposedly accepted the plan Monday, said in remarks published Wednesday by the Albanian-language newspaper Kosova Sot that chances for the guerrillas to sign are "50-50."
More than 2,000 people have died and 300,000 have been displaced in a year of fighting between Yugoslav troops and ethnic Albanian rebels. Albanians make up 90 percent of the 2 million populace in Kosovo, a province in the Yugoslav republic of Serbia.
Peace talks that produced only partial progress toward a settlement last month are set to resume in Paris on Monday, but envoys are trying to win pledges from both sides beforehand.
As the talks continued in Belgrade, army troops and Serb police were pushing ahead to establish control of an ethnic Albanian-populated area along Kosovo's southern border with Macedonia.
The U.N. refugee agency said it had reports of at least four villages burning in the hills along the border.
Yugoslav forces backed by tanks and heavy weapons have been sweeping through villages across from border areas where NATO forces are gathering, sending as many as 4,000 villagers fleeing, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.