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Yugoslavia: NATO Envoy Aims To Start Peace Talks

Bujanovac, Yugoslavia; 20 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A NATO envoy today sought to jump start talks between Serbian authorities and ethnic Albanian rebels over a contested area near Kosovo. Pieter Feith says peace talks between Serbian authorities and ethnic Albanian rebels in a tense area of southern Serbia could resume Friday. The NATO special envoy spoke after talks today with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in the southern Serbian town of Bujanovic.

Covic described the talks as "useful," and said he also hopes talks will start on Friday.

Ethnic Albanians insist that any talks over the disputed area near the Kosovo boundary include, in addition to their civilian leaders, also the rebels who have controlled the area for months. Serbian authorities refuse direct talks with the rebels whom they brand "terrorists."

The two sides agreed last week, after NATO mediation, to a ceasefire. But Serbian officials yesterday accused the rebels of violating the agreement.

EU security affairs chief Javier Solana said in Skopje today that the militants are "terrorists" who must be condemned and isolated. He said the government should work with political parties and representatives of ethnic Albanians.

The guerillas said in a communique that they are fighting for greater rights for the ethnic Albanian minority, but are willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement.

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told a meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission that the rebels are undermining efforts to end years of conflict in the Balkans.

There were sporadic exchanges of gunfire by midday around Tetovo on the seventh day of the armed conflict.