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Yugoslavia: NATO Leader Criticizes Kosovo Referendum Proposal

Sofia, 3 April 1998 (RFE/RL) - NATO Secretary General Javier Solana says Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's recent idea to hold a referendum on international mediation in the Kosovo crisis is a stalling tactic. Speaking in Sofia today, Solana said the proposal is "just another mistake" by Milosevic. Solana also expressed concern at developments in Kosovo, saying he is unhappy with the way things are evolving in the southern Serbian province.

Milosevic, who has rejected foreign mediation in the crisis, yesterday called for a national vote on demands by Western powers and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders for outside mediation. He suggested that a referendum should ask voters: "Do you accept the participation of foreign representatives in the resolution of the problems in Kosovo?"

Solana stressed that his reaction to the proposal is very negative and that he expects the international community to perceive the referendum as a maneuver to gain time.

The leader of the main ethnic Albanian party in the province, Ibrahim Rugova, today told reporters in Pristina that independence is the "best solution" for the troubles in Kosovo. He said negotiations on the problem should be held with the mediation of a third party. He also said Belgrade's proposed referendum was "not serious."

The United States and its European allies blame Milosevic for police violence against the separatist ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, in which at least 80 people were killed last month. Albanians outnumber Serbs in Kosovo by nine to one.

Also today, the European Union approved an $80 million humanitarian aid package for former Yugoslavia. The EU says the package will enable humanitarian agencies to carry out coordinated programs until February 1999. It will also support the return of refugees and displaced persons and launch healthcare programs.