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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Albanian Leader Appeals For Independence

Prague, 18 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova says the ethnic Albanian insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) is not the real power among Albanians in the Serb-controlled province.

"UCK is a group that currently is isolated in the mountains by the Serbian police in the lowlands," Rugova says. He adds that while many UCK insurgents do support Kosovo's institutions, there is what he terms "a more extremist group that does not respect anyone... who does not cooperate but wants to be in command". He says it is these extremists who have launched fresh attacks and offensives in Kosovo on the Serbian police."

Rugova was elected president of Kosovo's Albanian majority in secret elections, declared illegal by the Serb authorities, in 1992. He was re-elected in March. He says that the majority generally supports the institutions of Kosovo, support the president, the parliament, and the government.

Speaking in French, Rugova made his remarks today during a news conference at RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague, where he has been holding talks with Czech leaders.

Rugova has been trying to gain support abroad for his goal of an independent Kosovo. But the international community and Czech leaders, as well as the authorities in Belgrade, have all rejected any suggestion of independence for the province.

Rugova today expressed disappointment that a letter he received from President Vaclav Havel yesterday backs autonomy rather than independence for Kosovo. Havel wrote that a broad, prudently applied autonomy could create conditions for overcoming tensions between ethnic groups. But Rugova says he expected more support from Havel, whom he describes as "an international figure strongly committed in recent months to finding a solution to the Kosovo question".

Havel is suffering from a respiratory virus and was unable to meet Rugova in person. Instead, he wrote Rugova a letter praising him for his advocacy of non-violence.

Rugova told reporters that the ethnic Albanians who make up nearly 90 percent of Kosovo's almost two million inhabitants should be given the opportunity to determine their homeland's fate in a referendum.

Serbs insist Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia and reject granting Kosovo republic status within the rump Yugoslav federation. This, they say, would be the first step to independence for Kosovo.

Rugova says he has never demanded a change in Kosovo's external borders or what he termed "reunification" with Albania. He says that would create what he calls "too big a problem" involving Macedonia and Montenegro, both of which have ethnic Albanian minorities. Rather, he says, the best solution for the Albanians and Serbs, for Kosovo and Serbia, would be an independent Kosovo consisting of an Albanian majority and a Serbian minority with guarantees for the Serbs' economic and cultural interests.

The Kosovo Albanian leader today reiterated his call for an interim agreement valid for three years, during which international envoys, particularly from the Contact Group and the European Union, would try to find a solution to Kosovo's status. During this time, he says, Kosovo Albanians would be allowed to re-organize themselves.

"It is necessary to specify the functions of all of Kosovo's democratic institutions, to establish a Kosovo police force, to resolve the priority issue of Kosovo's security, to develop the province's economic and social life and to leave the door open for the people of Kosovo to decide their fate through a referendum..."

Rugova says a majority of the citizens of Kosovo want independence, and that his centrist League for a Democratic Kosovo (LDK) has been working for the past six years toward the goal of independence that he says would save the people of Kosovo.