Lisbon, 18 November 1998 (RFE/RL) - NATO's top commander in Europe warned today that diplomatic efforts to secure a lasting settlement in Kosovo must advance quickly because the cease-fire there is shaky and could collapse within months. U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark told a conference in Lisbon that despite the international community's best efforts, relative peace in the troubled southern Serbian province of Kosovo will probably only last two to four months.
"We must use this respite to achieve a just and durable political settlement" for Kosovo, a province within Yugoslavia where 90 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian.
Clark warned that both sides -- separatist ethnic Albanians as well as Serb police and military forces -- are preparing for further confrontation.
Meanwhile, in Kosovo, ethnic Albanians refused to participate in talks today led by Serbian President Milan Milutinovic. The moderate Albanian side has refused to talk to him, preferring international mediation, which Belgrade has ruled out.
Also today, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said more than 10 percent of Kosovo's population of nearly two million remains displaced.
A deal reached last month between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on the reduction of Yugoslav forces in Kosovo was intended to enable displaced persons to return to their villages.
But UNHCR spokesman in Geneva, Kris Janowski, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview today some 100,000 people are still displaced within Kosovo, some 40,000 are still in Montenegro, 20,000 in Albania, 10,000 in Bosnia, and more than 50,000 in western Europe. He says only perhaps a few hundred refugees remain in the hills.
Janowski says UNHCR estimates at least 20,000 ethnic Serbs, mainly refugees from Croatia, have left Kosovo for Serbia and Montenegro since the fighting started.