Pristina, Yugoslavia; 15 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to the Balkans, today warned that opposing sides in Kosovo are "playing with dynamite" if they continue recent violence. Holbrooke is in the Kosovo capital Pristina the day after the deadliest clashes in months in the southern Serbian province claimed at least 37 lives on both sides. He told a news conference that the violence would not deter international peace efforts.
Holbrooke, who brokered a shaky ceasefire two months ago, flew to Yugoslavia today to try to speed up the peace process in Kosovo, where fighters of the ethnic Albanian majority have been battling with Yugoslav security forces for independence from Serbia.
Later today, Holbrooke is scheduled to meet Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. The U.S. State Department says he will "emphasize the need to move ahead expeditiously" on a Kosovo peace plan.
Holbrooke and Milosevic agreed to a truce to end the fighting in Kosovo October 12. But there has been virtually no progress in reaching a cruicial political settlement.
In Washington, an unnamed State Department official told our correspondent that Holbrooke will insist that Milosevic fully comply with the October pact to resolve the crisis in Kosovo.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for NATO's "extraction force" deployed in Macedonia admitted today that it cannot rescue 2,000 unarmed observers sent to Kosovo by the Organization for Security and Cooperation if it is actively opposed by Belgrade.
Captain Stephen Burnett said the NATO extraction force is designed to rescue small groups that face an uncertain environment. He said more troops would be needed to rescue all 2,000 verifiers.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said in an interview published Sunday that any incursion into Yugoslav territory would be viewed by Belgrade as an "act of aggression."
Asked specifically whether a NATO rescue mission would be opposed, Milosevic said the duty of the Yugoslav army is "not to allow any foreign troops" to enter Yugoslav territory.