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Yugoslavia: OSCE Head Says UCK Agrees To Release Soldiers

Pristina, 12 January 1999 (RFE/RL) - The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) has agreed to release all eight Yugoslav soldiers they have been holding captive since late last week. The OSCE chairman, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, announced in Kosovo's provincial capital Pristina that negotiations for freeing the eight had ended successfully. However, Vollebaek did not give any details. It is unclear when the soldiers will be freed and whether any ethnic Albanians held by Yugoslav authorities will be exchanged in return. No comment was immediately available from either the UCK or from Belgrade. Earlier in the day, the Yugoslav Army said it was prepared to use force to free the soldiers if OSCE mediation efforts failed to win their release. The threat came from Colonel Milivoje Novkovic, head of the Yugoslav Army Information Service. His statement, published by the official Tanjug news agency, said use of force would be justified both constitutionally and morally. Novkovic reiterated that the eight soldiers must be released unconditionally.

His demand came just hours after a spokesman for the UCK ruled out an unconditional release. Albin Kurti, a spokesman for the UCK's political representative Adem Demaci, repeated earlier demands by the separatists that the prisoners be exchanged for nine UCK fighters captured last month.

The eight Yugoslav soldiers were captured by the UCK last Friday. Since then, the OSCE had been working to win their freedom amid fears that the new tensions could escalate into widespread fighting.