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Yugoslavia: U.S. Envoy Accuses Belgrade of Cease-Fire Violations

Brussels, 3 March (RFE/RL) - U.S. Kosovo envoy Chris Hill told NATO ambassadors today that Belgrade is violating conditions of an October cease-fire agreement. Hill told reporters in Brussels after briefing NATO officials that attacks yesterday by Yugoslav tanks and artillery near Kosovo's border with Macedonia are clear violations. The fighting is for control of a transport corridor NATO had been expected to use to enter Kosovo -- either to enforce a peace agreement or to extract OSCE monitors ahead of threatened airstrikes.

OSCE monitors say 20 companies of Yugoslav army troops -- as many as 3,000 soldiers -- are now deployed in Kosovo. Belgrade pledged in October not to keep more than 3 companies, or about 450 troops, outside their barracks.

After Hill's briefing, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana repeated demands that Belgrade agree to NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo.

Hill and Wolfgang Petritsch, an Austrian negotiator who represents the 15-nation European Union at the peace talks, came to Brussels to brief the North Atlantic Council, NATO's top policy-making body, on progress in the Kosovo peace process.

The main point of contention in the peace conference, which was suspended in Rambouillet, France after 17 days, was the ethnic Albanian side's refusal to give up aspirations for independence and Belgrade's refusal to accept a NATO-led force in Kosovo to guarantee any agreement.

Earlier today, ethnic Albanian negotiators said they will sign a Western-backed autonomy agreement when peace talks resume in France on March 15. The Kosovo Liberation Army's hard-line political leader, Adem Demaci, resigned yesterday. Demaci's opposition to the accord had prevented ethnic Albanians from signing the plan last week.

NATO has threatened airstrikes against Serbian military targets if Belgrade alone opposes the peace plan.

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency says that the Yugoslav tank and artillery fire near Kosovo's southeastern border has forced thousands of ethnic Albanian civilians to flee, with some crossing into neighboring Macedonia. UN refugee agency spokesman Kris Janowski says the exodus means people are living out in the open again for the first time in months.