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Serbs Given Until Tuesday to End Attacks in Kosovo

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Warning that “time is limited,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced Friday that key Western allies have imposed an effective deadline of Tuesday on Serbia to end its military campaign against ethnic Albanians in its breakaway Kosovo province or face unspecified new punitive steps, including possible military action.

Five of the six powers in the Contact Group on the Balkans also imposed a new, immediate ban on commercial flights by Yugoslav air carriers to their countries.

“Unfortunately, the Serb side has chosen to fight rather than talk seriously,” Albright told a news conference here after talks with U.S. allies on the crises in Yugoslavia and South Asia. “We know from experience that our response must be unequivocal and unambiguous if it is to be effective.”

A terse communique by the Contact Group--whose members are the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia--called on the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to immediately cease all actions by security forces affecting civilians in Kosovo and to withdraw units involved in “civilian repression.”

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Albright asserted that the recent escalation of military action by Serbia--which along with tiny Montenegro makes up the rump Yugoslavia--included indiscriminate attacks.

“We believe that this is ‘ethnic cleansing'--and it must stop,” she said.

The communique also demanded that Serbia immediately allow international monitors into Kosovo and that it facilitate the return of all refugees and displaced people and the involvement of international humanitarian relief groups.

The communique then insisted that Serbia make “rapid progress” in beginning to talk with the leadership in Kosovo, a restive Serbian province where 90% of the population is ethnic Albanian.

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“There must be a clear time table for rapid progress, and President Milosevic . . . has a special responsibility to ensure that steps are taken to achieve a political solution,” the communique said.

The June 16 deadline is pegged to a summit Tuesday in Moscow between Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and Milosevic.

The Contact Group is counting on Moscow to impress on Belgrade--a traditional ally linked by religious and ethnic ties--the serious consequences if it does not agree to an immediate cease-fire in Kosovo.

The “time for Milosevic to respond is limited,” Albright said. “All of us agreed that his meeting next week with President Yeltsin will be an opportunity--and a test.”

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But at the same time, analysts noted that Russia is also the main obstacle in the U.S.-led attempt to pressure Milosevic. Russia was the lone holdout in the new Yugoslav air ban, which will mainly affect Yugoslav Airlines.

“The Russian Federation does not associate itself with these measures,” the communique pointedly noted after listing support from the Americans, British, Germans, French and Italians.

Russia continues to balk publicly at use of NATO warplanes to engage in punitive measures against Serbia, a measure agreed to Thursday by alliance defense ministers meeting in Brussels.

Moscow this week also blocked a United Nations resolution supporting the use of force if necessary to end fighting that has already claimed at least 250 lives and displaced tens of thousands.

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Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen talked in Brussels on Friday with Russian Defense Minister Igor D. Sergeyev to seek Russian support for possible military action against Serbia, especially by forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Cohen, like Albright, stressed the urgency of finding a way to stop the bloodshed in the separatist province and warned that Russia risked isolation if it blocked international efforts to bring peace in Kosovo.

“Russia obviously would . . . also have to take into account that it might be isolated in the world community if it does not seek a way to bring whatever leverage it can to bring Milosevic to the table,” he said.

While some Russian officials have suggested that any NATO deployment involving Kosovo would require U.N. approval, Albright said Friday that the United States does not need this because the world has already approved many calls for action to quell violence in the Balkans.

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Besides its tough talk directed at Milosevic, Friday’s communique urged Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians to demonstrate restraint. It said it is “essential” that ethnic Albanian extremists in the Kosovo Liberation Army refrain from attacks.

“A political dialogue is unlikely to take root if violence continues to be espoused by members of the Kosovo Albanian community,” it warned.

The major powers acted Friday even as ethnic Albanian militants stepped up attacks against Serbian authorities in Kosovo, killing two Serbian police officers a few miles from Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, the Associated Press reported.


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