Holbrooke meets Albanian fighters in war zone

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The Independent Online
THE US diplomat trying to broker peace in Kosovo yesterday met armed Albanian fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army on a tour of battlefields in the province, which has revolted against Serb rule.

Richard Holbrooke encountered the KLA fighters - curiously enough two lawyers, aged 40 and 30, on a visit to Decani in western Kosovo.

The diplomat, touring Belgrade and other Balkan capitals in a search for a diplomatic settlement, was clearly outraged by evidence of Serbia's brutal attempts to crush the insurrection among Kosovo's 1.8 million Albanians.

Surveying the torched houses and empty streets he said it reminded him of the worst scenes in Bosnia, where he played a crucial role in securing the 1995 peace deal that ended the ethnic fighting there.

"Decani is awful," Mr Holbrooke said. "This was not fighting, this was the Yugoslav security forces driving people out. I think the Serbs should get out of here and the residents should come back and be given government help to reconstruct their homes."

While Mr Holbrooke met Albanian fighters, the political leader of the Kosovo Albanians yesterday had little success in persuading the Western Alliance to support his people's demand for independence.

At a meeting in Brussels, Javier Solana, Secretary General of Nato, told Ibrahim Rugova he should resume talks immediately with the Serbian government, while warning him the West would not support Kosovo's independence.

"The Secretary-General made clear to Dr Rugova that he should return to the negotiating table immediately without conditions and resume the search for a negotiated solution," a Nato official said.

The seemingly harsh message to Mr Rugova was prompted by fears that recent Nato warnings of possible air strikes against Serbia were playing into the hands of Kosovo's militants. But the message will please Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic and will further undermine Mr Rugova's weakened standing in Kosovo in relation to the KLA.