US fails to unite warring Kosovo factions

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The Independent Online
AMERICAN EFFORTS to unite Kosovo's fractious Albanians behind one banner in their negotiations with Serbian government collapsed last night, as a key member of the Albanian team defected the Kosovo Liberation Army, which disavows peace talks with Belgrade.

Adem Demaci, often described (by Albanians) as "Kosovo's Nelson Mandela" for the 28 years he has spent in Serbian jails, was named earlier in the week as a key member of a Kosovo Albanian team cobbled together by Ibrahim Rugova, whose pacific tactics in support for Kosovo's independence have earned him the strong support of Western diplomats, including Britain's Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

But yesterday Mr Demaci said he had accepted an offer to become the spokesman for the political wing of the KLA. The move gravely set back Western hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo crisis and posed a direct challenge to the political claims of Mr Rugova to be a spokesman for the province's 1.9 million Albanians.

Mr Demaci said he had accepted the offer because the KLA represented "the concrete expression of our desire for freedom."

He said the crisis was continuing because the Americans and Europeans did not support independence for Kosovo. "The clashes in Kosovo will continue until the Serbian regime admits that there is no other solution but Kosovo's independence," Mr Demaci said.

Unifying the militants of the KLA and the more pacific Albanian nationalists behind a platform of autonomy from Serbia has long been a cardinal aim of the United States, in its efforts to find a political solution to the crisis in Serbia's southern province, where Belgrade's offensive against Albanian "separatists" has now created an estimated 240,000 homeless refugees.

Whether the formation of a united Albanian negotiation team would have made any difference is increasingly doubtful, however.

Serbia's military offensive which started on 20 July has shown no sign of letting up, in spite of the patently fraudulent pledges made by the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, to honour a Western-brokered ceasefire and halt the Serb-led army's shelling of Albanian villages.

In consequence, the Nato powers have had to revive their earlier plans to intervene militarily in Kosovo to stop the Serbs from "ethnically cleaning" large parts of Kosovo - a plan which would land the rest of Europe with an enormous humanitarian crisis and chronically destabilise Serbia's immediate neighbours, Greece Macedonia and Albanian proper.

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