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Yugoslavia: Thousands Of Kosovars Still Displaced

Prague, 18 November 1998 (RFE/RL) - The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 10 percent of Kosovo's population of nearly two million remains displaced. A deal reached last month between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on the reduction of Yugoslav forces in Kosovo was intended to enable displaced persons to return to their villages.

But UNHCR spokesman in Geneva, Kris Janowski, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview today some 100,000 people are still displaced within Kosovo, some 40,000 are still in Montenegro, 20,000 in Albania, 10,000 in Bosnia, and more than 50,000 in western Europe. He says only perhaps a few hundred refugees remain in the hills.

Janowski says UNHCR estimates that at least 20,000 ethnic Serbs, mainly refugees from Croatia, have left Kosovo for Serbia and Montenegro since the fighting started.

Meanwhile, peace talks intended to end the Kosovo crisis began today but key ethnic Albanians and representatives of Western powers did not attend.

A Serbian delegation led by President Milan Milutinovic began the talks in the provincial capital, Pristina, around noon. Milutinovic is meeting with representatives of Kosovo's Turkish, Muslim, and various Romani communities, as well as Russian embassy officials and loyalist ethnic Albanians from the Djakovica region.

Key ethnic Albanian leaders and members of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army did not attend. Neither did U.S. envoy Christopher Hill.

Details of a draft peace plan reportedly being developed by Hill were published today by the leading ethnic Albanian newspaper "Koha Ditore." Reuters reports the plan outlines virtual self-rule for Kosovo. The plan proposes linking the province more closely with federal Yugoslavia and diminishing its ties to Serbia. The draft says Kosovo would have its own president, courts, government and parliament.