Cook to join fray in Serbia

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WESTERN governments yesterday piled pressure on Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav President, to help find a way out of the ever-growing hostilities between Serb police and the Albanian majority in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo.

The Foreign Office said that Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, was planning to travel to Belgrade, and possibly the Kosovan capital Pristina, on behalf of the European Union on his way back from today's visit to Bosnia. Last night diplomats were arranging meetings with Mr Milosevic and with Albanian leaders from Kosovo.

As Kosovo's Albanian community buried more than 20 people killed by Serbian police in "anti-terrorist" raids on private houses over the weekend - the worst incident since the province lost its autonomy from Belgrade nine years ago - Mr Milosevic was singled out by European and US officials as the man who needs to give way if a solution is to be found to one of the Balkans' most intractable ethnic conflicts.

"President Milosevic knows very well that the United States will not tolerate violence and that violence will lead to the toughest consequences imaginable. It would spell the end of his government, beyond the shadow of a doubt," warned Richard Gelbard, the US special envoy to the Balkans, who just a week ago visited Kosovo in an attempt to start dialogue between the opposing parties.

The European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Hans van den Broek, expressed similar sentiments. "The clock is ticking and it is almost 12 o'clock," he said. "We feel very clearly that President Milosevic bears very great responsibility in this respect."

The tough words from international officials reflected their concern that Kosovo could spiral rapidly out of control. Although the Albanian leadership favours non-violent protest and negotiation with Belgrade to re-establish autonomy within Yugoslavia, the situation has been pushed to crisis point by the emergence of an armed guerrilla group, the Kosovo Liberation Army, that intends to fight for outright independence.