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Yugoslav Leaders Mix Signals on Kosovo

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic predicted Wednesday that a political solution for the Kosovo conflict will come next year, even as a top government official in the breakaway Serbian province said renewed serious fighting was possible.

Milosevic, in a year-end message read on state television, said he expected 1999 to lead to a “multi-ethnic Kosovo, based on the principles of equality for all.”

He said no one will be favored: “Not the Serbs, but not the Albanians either.”

Yet he again ruled out independence for Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up 90% of the population, saying any efforts to secede will “come up against the will of the people” of Yugoslavia.

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Serbia is the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, which also includes Montenegro.

In Kosovo’s provincial capital, Pristina, Veljko Odalovic, Yugoslavia’s leading official in the province, accused the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, of exploiting an October truce to take positions that were abandoned by withdrawing Serbian police and Yugoslav army troops.

“We have to defend our state, its integrity and people . . . with or without the international community,” Odalovic told the Belgrade daily Glas. “There will be problems, but we will punish the last terrorist.”

Odalovic’s comments heightened concerns that the October truce, mediated by U.S. diplomats, could collapse altogether.

Four days of fierce fighting last week in northern Kosovo claimed at least 15 lives and sent thousands fleeing.

Serbian officials accuse the KLA of triggering the clashes by attacking police and army units.

Yugoslavia on Tuesday urged the United Nations to declare the KLA a terrorist organization and to crack down on its support network abroad.

The KLA asserts that its members are only responding to attacks on them.

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A Serbian crackdown against the KLA earlier this year claimed more than 1,000 lives and left about 300,000 homeless.

Milosevic ended the aggression after NATO threatened airstrikes.


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