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Yugoslavia: Clinton Says Only Belgrade Can Avert Strike

Washington, 8 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says it is now up to Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to avert a NATO military strike by ending his crackdown in Kosovo.

Clinton says the U.S. and NATO cannot stand by and let tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians starve or freeze to death this winter. He says NATO is prepared to act to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

The American president told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that Belgrade could stop worrying about military force if it complies with United Nations directives on Kosovo.

Appearing at a photo session with visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Clinton said the Yugoslav president must fulfill several conditions. He said key among those were pulling his troops back to their barracks, resume negotiations with the ethnic Albanian leadership and let humanitarian aid go through.

Kosovo is a province of Serbia, the main republic of Yugoslavia. About 90 percent of its 2 million inhabitants are ethnic Albanians and most favor independence or substantial self-rule.

Milosevic launched his crackdown Feb. 28 against the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army. Hundreds have been killed and more than 250,000 people have been driven from their homes.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is scheduled to hold talks with NATO officials in Brussels today (Thursday) and then fly on to London. Albright was in the Middle East Wednesday mediating between Israel and Palestinians on troop withdrawals from the West Bank.

State Department spokesman James Rubin says the U.S. is "continuing to push for military action against the Serbs." But he acknowledges that U.S. allies were not "in a rush to use force."

In Belgrade, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke held a third round of talks with Milosevic. He told the Yugoslav president that the situation was "extremely serious."

Milosevic countered by telling Holbrooke that NATO threats of military intervention were blocking chances of finding a political solution in Kosovo.

Russia has threatened to veto any attempt at the United Nations to authorize NATO military action against Serbia.

Clinton acknowledged a key role Russia could play in the crisis in pushing Milosevic to pull back.

The president recalled that Milosevic had assured Russian officials recently that he would comply with the U.N..

Clinton said: "The most important thing we can do is to try to work with the Russians to try to actually avoid military strikes by securing compliance with the U.N. resolutions by Milosevic."

Hungary's Orban said his country is ready to provide whatever help NATO needed in handling the crisis. He noted that Hungary has been invited to join the alliance along with Poland and the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the telephone that Moscow was alarmed that force is being contemplated against the Serbs.

The Kremlin said in a statement Yeltsin stressed that such an attack would create a "qualitatively new situation" that would be "most unfavorable for world peace."

The statement said Yeltsin instructed Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to search for a diplomatic solution at an upcoming six-nation Contact Group meeting in London. The group comprises the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy as well as European Union officials.

U.S. officials have said NATO strikes could be launched even without specific U.N. authorization.

The U.S. has a substantial naval presence in the area, including an aircraft carrier, planes and troops.