US fails to win right to bomb Kosovo

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IN A fresh setback to efforts to corner Slobodan Milosevic, the US failed yesterday to win the agreement of the ethnic Albanians to the proposed political settlement that could have opened the way to Nato bombing of Yugoslav military targets.

On Saturday, after "overtime" negotiations at the conference, Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, could not disguise her anger at the Albanians' refusal to sign up - and thus present Belgrade with the choice of accepting the entire package, including Nato peace-keepers, or facing airstrikes.

Yesterday she tried again, without success. "We have not achieved that," her spokesman, James Rubin, said before Mrs Albright moved on to separate talks with the Serbian President, Milan Milutinovic, right-hand man of Mr Milosevic.

The impasse makes it even more likely the conference, extended to a new deadline of 1400 GMT tomorrow, will yield at best a fudged compromise.

Simultaneously, the prospect is receding of the attacks Washington is itching to unleash against Belgrade, but which are opposed not only by Russia, but most of the European members of the six-nation Contact Group of leading powers.

While cruise missiles and 430 Nato planes stand poised to strike Yugoslavia, more deaths were reported in the province at the weekend, while inhabitants of Studencane village, where Serbian security forces and Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas exchanged heavy fire on Saturday, said they were too scared to return home.

The ethnic Albanians are refusing to sign the final draft because, although it grants Kosovo broad autonomy, it makes no provision for a referendum on independence once the three-year interim agreement expires. If the Albanians stick to this position, Mrs Albright acknowledged, there could be no bombing of Yugoslavia, though Belgrade is adamant it will tolerate no Nato peace-keepers on its soil.

Every sign is the US miscalculated, assuming the Albanians would accept any deal as long as they had a guarantee of Nato protection. In fact, as an Italian official admitted, "both sides are equally to blame" .

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by Milosevic, page 3