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Yugoslavia: Milosevic To Meet Kosovo's Ethnic Albanian Leader

Vienna, 13 May 1998 (RFE/RL) - A proposed meeting between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Kosovo ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova on Friday is an "important first step" towards a dialogue, says the Organization For Security And Cooperation In Europe (OSCE). Until today, both sides in the Kosovo conflict had refused to meet, with Milosevic systematically rejecting the ethnic Albanian demand that talks be held in the presence of an outside mediator.

The OSCE chairman, Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek, said the meeting offered the two sides an opportunity to agree on the format for a dialogue.

Geremek said a peaceful solution to the conflict could be found only at the negotiating table. He again called on Yugoslavia to accept a mediating mission led by the former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, on behalf of both the OSCE and the European Union. Yugoslavia has so far rejected the mission.

Meanwhile speaking from Berlin, U.S. President Bill Clinton welcomed the news of the talks. He described the apparent breakthrough as a "sober first step toward resolving a very dangerous conflict." He said there was still "a great deal to be done" and that the parties face "a complex challenge." But he said it was encouraging to see the process -- brokered by U.S. envoys Richard Holbrooke and Robert Gelbard -- underway.

The Russian government also welcomed the planned meeting between Milosevic and Rugova, saying in a statement that a very important step had been taken.

There has been no official word on the announced talks from ethnic Albanian leaders in the Kosovo capital Pristina.

Holbrooke said the inital round of talks would take place without "the direct involvement of an international mediator." The agreement brokered by Holbrooke calls for the Belgrade meeting to be followed within a week by a series of meetings in Pristina.