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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Rebels Question Quick Peace Talks

Pristina, 1 February 1999 (RFE/RL) - A spokesman for ethnic Albanian rebel fighters has indicated opposition to quick peace talks with Serb leaders, saying negotiations organized in a "rush" will not guarantee a solution to the conflict in Kosovo. However, Jakup Krasniqi of the Kosovo Liberation Army did not rule out that the rebels will meet a demand by major powers and go to France this coming weekend for peace talks with Serb leaders. Krasniqi spoke to Albanian state television yesterday.

Western officials are seeking to unite the fragmented Kosovo Albanian leadership for the talks. Moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova has said he will go to France.

There has been no word from Belgrade yet on whether Serb leaders will attend.

The U.S., Russia and the four west European nations of the Balkans Contact Group have demanded that the ethnic Albanians and Serbs meet in France by February 6 to hammer out an agreement giving Kosovo substantial autonomy within Yugoslavia. An accord would be expected to be reached within three weeks

On Sunday, the United States and Britain reiterated that NATO force would be used if necessary to get Belgrade and ethnic Albanians to negotiate a peace treaty for Serbia's Kosovo province.

The warning was issued by U.S. Vice President Al Gore and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. They were interviewed on Sky TV.

Gore also said the U.S. has not yet committed itself to sending in ground troops to Kosovo to enforce any agreement between the Serbian government and ethnic Albanian fighters.

There is no word yet from either side on whether they would turn up for peace talks. But U.S. envoy William Walker, the chief foreign observer to Kosovo, said today in an interview with BBC he expects both sides to attend the talks.

China criticized the threat of NATO force, saying it opposed what the Chinese Foreign Ministry called military "meddling" in the Serbian province.

Also Sunday, the official Yugoslav Tanjug news agency reported that an ethnic Albanian loyal to the Serbian authorities was shot and killed in Kosovo. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov says his country would back NATO in the event of a military strike against Yugoslavia to end the fighting in Kosovo.

Stoyanov, in an interview in today's edition of Germany's "Berliner Morgenpost," said he was certain the international community will use every means to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kosovo. He said this is what all of Yugoslavia's neighboring states want.

But if there are NATO military strikes, Stoyanov said Bulgaria would "pursue a policy of Euro-Atlantic solidarity."

Stoyanov reiterated his call for Bulgarian membership in NATO as soon as it has met the necessary criteria. He said the situation in the former Yugoslavia would be better stabilized if Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia were all NATO members. He said the instability of Yugoslavia was harming the image of the entire region.