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Yugoslavia: Kosovar Rebels Agree To Attend Peace Talks

Pristina, 2 February 1999 (RFE/RL) - A spokesman for the general headquarters of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) says the rebel group is willing to attend international talks on reaching a political settlement in the Serb province. The spokesman, Jakup Krasniqi, today told Reuters at an undisclosed location in central Kosovo that the rebel group will "definitely" attend the talks and would present its own proposals on ending the conflict. The talks are to take place this Saturday at the French town of Rambouillet, near Paris. Earlier today, UCK's political representative Adem Demaci recommended that the group refuse to attend the peace conference.

Moderate ethnic Albanian parties in Kosovo have indicated they will attend the talks. Belgrade has not yet given a firm response. The Contact Group on former Yugoslavia has demanded participation of all Kosovo conflict parties and backed it up with a renewed threat of NATO military intervention if talks fail to produce a deal.

Yesterday, Yugoslavia's state-run news agency Tanjug carried a statement by the Yugoslav government calling on the UN Security Council to prevent NATO from carrying out possible air strikes against Serbia.

The government argued that "NATO's open threats jeopardize the chief principles of international relations, international peace and security, and the very foundations of international legal order. This is why the federal cabinet decided to call for a UN Security Council session to take adequate prevent armed aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

Reuters quoted political analysts in Belgrade as saying that the government of President Slobodan Milosevic issued the appeal in order to "make a mess, to buy some time." The Contact Group has set a February 6 deadline for Belgrade and the Kosovars to reply to its ultimatum to attend talks or face military action. The Security Council has endorsed the Contact Group's position.

In Washington, our correspondent reports that senior U.S. intelligence officials say ethnic violence in the Serbian province of Kosovo is the most acute international problem facing the United States.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet says there has been a dramatic deterioration of the situation in Kosovo in recent weeks.

Tenet and Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee today that the Kosovo conflict threatens the entire Balkan region.

Tenet contends that if a political solution is not found soon, both sides will be prepared for all-out war in the spring. He says the rebels will be much better armed and better trained within a few months. Tenet predicted that the Serb authorities will "seek to crush the insurgents once and for all."