By Julie Moffett and Frank T. Csongos
Washington, 3 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says Kosovo's ethnic Albanians appear to be moving toward a full agreement on a proposed political settlement for the independence-minded Serbian province.
State Department spokesman James Foley told reporters Tuesday that's the assessment of the U.S. envoy to the Balkans, Christopher Hill. Foley says Hill has been consulting widely in the region and believes that the Kosovars are on the road to say "yes" to the proposed accords when negotiations resume in France on March 15.
"There are very encouraging signs in the last few days that the Kosovar Albanians as a whole and KLA representatives in particular appear to be moving toward full agreement of the Rammbouillet accords."
The proposed settlement would grant Kosovo autonomy within Serbia. An estimated 28,000 NATO troops, including 4,000 Americans, would be stationed in Kosovo as peacekeepers. However, Belgrade has rejected letting NATO troops in the province.
Leaders of the Kosovo Albanians have been invited to Washington for discussions at a date still to be decided on. The U.S. also is dispatching former Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole, a retired U.S. senator, to the Balkans.
"Senator Dole is expected to travel to the region in the coming days. His trip will support the negotiating efforts of Ambassador Hill and his Contact Group colleagues."
Foley said Dole will meet with a broad range of the Kosovo political leadership, including leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) that has been seeking the province's independence from Serbia.
Kosovo, with a population of about 1.8 million, is about 90 percent ethnic Albanian.
Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to the Balkans, said at a Washington news conference Tuesday that without U.S. ground troops, peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo will fail.
Wolf said that as the world's only superpower, the U.S. must assume the responsibility of putting an end to the bloodshed and crisis in Kosovo. He said that if NATO is involved in settling the situation in Kosovo, the U.S. must join in the effort.
Wolf said: "Without U.S. troops, peacekeeping will not work. If NATO is involved, U.S. must be part of the effort or it will fail."
Wolf outlined a strategy for dealing with the situation in Kosovo. He said that the U.S. first needs to increase the number of troops already in the region. He said American troops are too overburdened and stressed, while pay, allowances, and conditions are inadequate.
Wolf also said that "special attention" must be paid to the UCK. He said that while most members of the army are "common people interested in protecting their families," the UCK does have what he called a "rogue element."
Wolf explained: "There is no clearly established and proven civilian government and there is no line of authority between UCK and a representative government. Without control, the UCK could get out of hand. It is an army, frankly, without any civilian control, and that is a recipe that is not very good."
Wolf said that one of the first tasks of peacekeepers in Kosovo, should be to disarm the UCK. He said if the UCK was permitted to keep its arms would be a "time-bomb in the way of progress toward peace." Wolf added that providing safeguards for the Serbs who remain in Kosovo would also be an important part of the peace process.
But Wolf said it should be made clear that lasting peace in the Balkans will not occur while Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is in power. A solution permanently removing Milosevic from power should be sought, he said.
Wolf stated: "A just and permanent way for [Milosevic] to step down should be found. The longer he remains, the longer turmoil, unrest, and killing will continue in Eastern Europe."