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Yugoslavia: Milosevic Casts Vote In Referendum On Kosovo Talks

Belgrade, 23 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic cast his vote today in a referendum on whether foreigners should mediate between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province. As he voted in Belgrade, Milosevic called the ballot "a referendum for Serbia to decide about Serbia." He also called on ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosovo to open talks soon with the Serbian government.

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are boycotting the referendum. They have repeatedly demanded foreign mediators. State-controlled media have backed Milosevic's position. Results are due tomorrow.

The vote comes amid unconfirmed reports of renewed tension in the province near the border with Albania. At least 80 people were killed last month during a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The major Western powers and Russia have given Belgrade until Saturday to start meaningful talks with Kosovo Albanians or face tougher international sanctions.

Meanwhile, France's Defense Ministry today rejected charges that a French officer's contacts with former Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic ruined plans for an allied operation to arrest him.

The ministry said in a statement today that an unnamed French officer in Bosnia had maintained various contacts in Bosnia. But the ministry said the officer was recalled to France when it appeared the relationship "might have appeared questionable."

The French statement follows a "Washington Post" report that U.S. and allied military leaders canceled plans to capture Karadzic last summer after learning that a senior French officer had held secret meetings with him at which details of the arrest plan may have been divulged.

A spokesman for the NATO-led Stabilization force in Bosnia SFOR, dismissed as "ridiculous" claims of a breakdown in trust between U.S. and French forces in Bosnia.