Panic woos Kosovo Albanians

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MILAN PANIC, Prime Minister of the rump Yugoslavia, received a remarkably warm welcome from Albanian opposition leaders in Kosovo yesterday - in a province where relations between Albanians and Serbian leaders have been constantly hostile.

Before his unprecedented talks with the Albanian leaders, Mr Panic pitched his message of democracy and conciliation to an angry crowd of Serbs in Kosovo.

After the first meeting between a Yugoslav leader and Ibrahim Rugova, leader of Kosovo's 2 million Albanians, both sides claimed a crucial step had been taken towards relieving the threat of ethnic bloodshed. 'Mr Panic agreed to lift all the discriminatory laws and I am grateful for that,' Mr Rugova said.

A euphoric Mr Panic said: 'On the long road to resolving the problem of Kosovo, we have made the most important step.' He promised to re-open schools and factories to Albanians.

If the words of goodwill yield concrete results, Mr Panic will have won an important victory against Serbia's hardline leader, Slobodan Milosevic, who rose to power by quashing Kosovo Albanian demands for increased rights. He may even help to prevent the war in Bosnia from engulfing the mainly Muslim Kosovo Albanians - a war which many still fear.

The Panic visit followed the worst scenes of public unrest in Kosovo in the past two years. Earlier this week, tens of thousands of Albanians, shouting 'Give us back our schools', fought tear-gas battles with baton-charging Serbian riot police in the streets of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

GENEVA - The leader of Bosnia's rebel Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, said he would return home from Geneva this weekend to persuade his forces to hand over their aircraft to UN monitors, Reuter reports. Mr Karadzic announced his decision after General Zivomir Ninkovic, head of the Serbian air force, said in Bosnia that he would not honour an agreement between Mr Karadzic and mediators on Tuesday.

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