Panic to lift emergency in Kosovo

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TIRANA (AFP) - Milan Panic, the Yugoslav Prime Minister, said yesterday after a visit to Albania that he would lift the two-year state of emergency in Serbia's province of Kosovo - where Albanians form the majority of the inhabitants. Mr Panic announced the decision aboard the aircraft taking him back to Belgrade from talks with his Albanian counterpart, Alexander Meksi, in Tirana.

Mr Meksi made clear that the normalisation of relations between Yugoslavia and Albania would depend on how Belgrade dealt with the situation in Kosovo, where 90 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million inhabitants is of Albanian origin. Mr Meksi said Belgrade must lift the state of emergency, withdraw troops, send in neutral observers and restore full rights to the province's Albanians 'including the right to self-determination'.

Mr Panic's aides said the discussions between the two leaders 'were not easy' because of the 'intransigence' of the Albanians. Mr Panic said he had gone to Tirana 'with an outstretched hand'. He promised to see that human rights were respected in Kosovo and in the rest of Yugoslavia.

The visit was the first by a Yugoslav leader to Tirana since 1948. Mr Panic told journalists that lifting the state of emergency in Kosovo was within his powers, adding: 'I will to do it next week.' However, he said he would not withdraw the troops because Serbs and Albanians would inevitably fight if they left.

Scrapping the state of emergency could trigger a crisis between Mr Panic and Serbia's ultra-nationalist President, Slobodan Milosevic who, in 1986, exploited the Albanian 'threat' in Kosovo to whip up Serbian nationalism and win support for a crackdown on pro-independence sentiment in the province. After abolishing Kosovo's autonomous status, Mr Milosevic imposed a state of emergency in 1990 and called in federal troops to back up the police.