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Yugoslavia: Western Officials Warn Belgrade To End Kosovo Violence

Vilamoura, Portugal; 24 September 1998 (RFE/RL) - Western officials are warning Belgrade today not to ignore the latest international demands that it end a crackdown in Serbia's Kosovo province. The comments came after NATO today took a step toward possible military action. The alliance announced it had approved an activization warning, taking it to a higher level of military preparedness ahead of a possible decision to begin air operations in Kosovo. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana emphasized that a use of force would require another decision by NATO members.

British Defense Secretary George Robertson said Belgrade must either begin negotiating with leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority or face what he called "dire consequences."

German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe said that the latest warnings "should not be underestimated." Ruehe said NATO will no longer tolerate growing hardship for civilians caught in the fighting in Kosovo, particularly as winter approaches.

Robertson, Ruehe and Solana were speaking in Vilamoura, Portugal, where NATO defense ministers are meeting to discuss Kosovo.

The talks follow passage of a resolution by the UN Security Council yesterday, calling for a ceasefire, negotiations on autonomy for Kosovo, and steps to improve the humanitarian situation there.

A meeting on Kosovo was held in New York late yesterday among foreign ministers from the Contact Group -- Russia, the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Italy. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov later reiterated Moscow's opposition to a use of international force.

There are reports of continued clashes today between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo's central Drenica region. The Serbian media center in Kosovo claims Serb forces have encircled separatist fighters after destroying their bases in 15 villages. The center also said 194 separatists had been arrested the previous two days. The claims could not be verified independently.