Big powers meet to avert Kosovo war

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The Independent Online
FOREIGN ministers of the six Western powers who brokered the end of the war in Bosnia will meet in emergency session for the first time in more than two years on Monday to discuss ways to avert a major conflict in Kosovo. Almost 30 people died in the Albanian-dominated province in southern Serbia over the weekend.

On the ministers' agenda will be the possibility of reimposing full sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro, the rump successor state to the old Yugoslavia, whose president, Slobodan Milosevic, built his career on stirring up ethnic tension in Kosovo.

Ministers from several countries have already made clear that they see Mr Milosevic as the key figure, and intend to apply all possible pressure on him to return to Kosovo at least part of the autonomy he took away in 1989.

The meeting of the so-called Contact Group, comprising Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Russia, will be chaired in London by Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, who will be in Belgrade today for talks on behalf of the European Union with Mr Milosevic and other Serbian and Albanian leaders.

Speaking to reporters in Bosnia yesterday, Mr Cook warned that the violence in Kosovo could "all too easily spill over" into other Balkan states. He said greater autonomy for the province had become a matter of urgency. Western diplomats fear any full-scale revolt by the Kosovo Albanians, who make up 90 per cent of the population, could draw in fellow Albanians in Macedonia and possibly Albania itself.

Pro-government opinion in Belgrade yesterday deplored the West's apparent readiness to pin blame for the crisis on Serbia's shoulders, saying the terrorist threat posed by Albanian separatists should not be underestimated. Belgrade says last weekend's killing spree by Serbian police was triggered by an ambush in which two uniformed officers were murdered. Mr Cook was careful to condemn all violence: "We will not tolerate anybody who uses the bomb and bullet rather than the ballot box and peaceful political exchange," he said.

He was cautious, too, about the threat of reimposing sanctions, pointing out that punitive measures against Yugoslavia were still in place, denying the country access to international credit. The United States' special envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, was more outspoken: "You will see over the course of the next several days some very serious action by the United States and our close allies ... the economy right now in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is dismal ... The situation could become an awful lot worse and we can make it worse."