Kosovo peace hopes rise as rebels join talks

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The Independent Online
INTERNATIONAL HOPES for a peace deal in Kosovo rose sharply yesterday after a spokesman for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the ethnic Albanian guerrillas fighting a war of independence against Serbia, announced that the group would attend talks due to start near Paris on Saturday.

Jakup Krasniqi, spokesman for the general headquarters of the KLA, said: "We are definitely going to the talks with our proposals." It marked the first time the rebels have agreed to participate in negotiations.

The KLA will today name its negotiators for the talks, which are the last hope of averting more death and suffering for the population of Kosovo. The rebels' acceptance of the international community's summons to the talks at the chateau of Rambouillet means that all the main players on the Albanian side have agreed to attend, and the world is now waiting for the answer of the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic.

Nato has threatened air strikes if the Serbs do not come to the negotiating table. James Rubin, the US State Department spokesman, said: "I think the Serb side will be making a big, big mistake if they doubt the determination of Nato to use military power if they fail to show up at these negotiations."

Despite indications from several figures around Mr Milosevic that the Serbs would attend, the President has handed the decision to parliament, which is to vote tomorrow.

Nato has also imposed a deadline of two weeks from Saturday for a deal to be reached, but what will happen if and when the talks start at Rambouillet remains in question. Mr Krasniqi said yesterday that the KLA would call a referendum on independence from Yugoslavia after any interim autonomy plan, expected to last three years, runs out.

While this appears to be a softening of previous demands by the group for immediate independence, any suggestion that Kosovo should be allowed to break away will be unacceptable to Mr Milosevic. The potential for disunity on the Albanian side was also demonstrated yesterday when Adem Demaci, the KLA political spokesman, said he would recommend to the military command that they stay away from the talks.

"We are being asked to France not to make peace, but to capitulate," he said. "If the Serbs want to negotiate, the first thing they should do is withdraw all their forces from Kosovo."

Hours later, the veteran political figure, who has spent 27 years in Yugoslav jails, was contradicted by Mr Krasniqi.

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