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Serbia: U.S. Says It Did Not Provide Pretext For Repression

Washington, 11 March 1989 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. says it did not give Serbia a pretext for the crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province by calling the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) a terrorist group.

U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley says the Serbian government in Belgrade has refused to consider the legitimate political needs of the Kosovo Albanians, and that, he says, is the root cause of the trouble in Kosovo.

There has been speculation in the international press that a remark by the special U.S. envoy for the former Yugoslavia, Robert Gelbard, may have been interpreted by the Serbians as a licence to strike in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population.

In a visit to Belgrade last month, Gelbard praised Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic for his cooperation in Bosnia and called the Kosovo Liberation army "without question a terrorist group."

At Tuesday's press briefing, Foley disputed that version of the story about the Gelbard-Milosevic meeting. Foley quoted Gelbard as saying that, "there have been terrorist acts committed by this group." But Foley says that is not the same thing as saying that the KLA is a terrorist organization. He says that requires a determination by the Secretary of State after an exhaustive review and legal judgment.

Foley says it is hypocritical for Belgrade to use the excuse that it is fighting terrorism to justify what he called Serbia's outrageous repression of the past few weeks.

Gelbard visited the Kosovo capital Pristina on Tuesday and met with Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of the main Albanian political party LDK. Gelbard urged Belgrade to take the initiative to end violence and open a dialogue on the province's future.

His mission to Kosovo came a day after the six-nation international contact group on the former Yugoslavia -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States -- met to discuss punitive measures against Serbia unless it moves to resolve the Kosovo crisis within two weeks.

At that meeting, the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Italy called on the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo and other sanctions against Belgrade. Russia agreed to support only some of the sanctions.

Despite the lack of unanimity in London, Foley said the decisions taken by the majority of the group are not, in his words, undermined by Russia's failure to associate itself with those decisions.

He also said Russia made it clear that, should the United Nations decide to impose further sanctions on Serbia, Russia would abide by that decision.

Foley added that the contact group will meet in Washington on March 25th to review the situation in Kosovo and determine if Milosevic and Serbia have made any progress toward resolving the crisis.

Late Tuesday, the Serbian government called on Kosovo Albanian representatives to hold an "open dialogue." The state news agency Tanjug quoted a government statement as saying dialogue "is the only way for developing political processes aimed to solve" the situation in Kosovo.

However, it added that Serbia "makes a clear difference between terrorists and members of the ethnic Albanian minority." The government called on "responsible" Albanians to "distance themselves from terrorists" and condemn terrorism.