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Yugoslavia: Experts See Signs Of Hope For Kosovo

Washington, 24 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Some expert independent observers of Balkan issues see the suspension of the Serbian-Kosovar Albanian peace talks as a big step forward for the cause of peace and stability in the region.

On Tuesday, the six-nation Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia froze the peace talks that had been going on outside Paris until March 15, saying neither Serbs nor ethnic Albanians had signed their draft peace accord.

However, foreign ministers from the Contact Group say both sides have agreed to "substantial autonomy" for Kosovo. They say implementation of the plan -- including deployment of some type of international peacekeeping force, led by the NATO alliance -- will be discussed in three weeks.

James Hooper, the director Balkan Action Council in Washington, said that while there is no final accord yet, the results of the Rambouillet talks are a victory for the moderate forces among the ethnic Albanians.

Hooper said: "I think what happened was they made major progress with the Albanian delegation in isolating the hard liners. It's a victory for the moderates among the Kosovo Albanians."

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said ethnic Albanians need the time to discuss details of the political settlement with organizations in Kosovo. He said Belgrade has accepted autonomy for Kosovo with some conditions but wants to talk further about how to implement the deal.

Belgrade refuses to allow NATO troops to police an agreement. The Contact Group insists NATO lead any peacekeeping mission.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described the Contact Group's plan as the best that both sides could hope to get. She also repeated Washington's position that if Belgrade alone rejects an accord, Serb military targets will be bombed by NATO.

In an interview with RFE/RL on Tuesday, Hooper said it is his view that Albright saved the talks.

He said: "This was close to failure any number of times to running off the rails, and I think it was Madeleine Albright's own presence, her energy, the effectiveness of her own diplomatic approach that really brought this around. It is a heroic effort because this came very very close to not reaching any agreement at all."

However, Hooper said that much work needs to be done in Kosovo in the days ahead.

He said: "Now, what it means is that in the next two weeks, I think those who have a view about this, though, who want a democratic, stable solution to the problem of Kosovo need to engage with the Kosovo Albanians on a dialogue on this so that they understand that the international community is actually prepared to support this agreement, to provide the reinforcement, both civilian and military that the agreement calls for, and that they have the confidence that, in fact, the international community will stand behind the commitments they have made in the agreement."

Joseph Montville of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that if all goes well, the Albanians will end up with a status akin to that of Montenegro's as a constituency of the Yugoslav Federation.

Montville said: "It does prefigure what the draft agreement has in mind as a much greater, a major degree of autonomy for Kosovo."

Montville told RFE/RL that he agreed with the assessment that Albright played a major role in Tuesday's developments.

He said: "I think her presence was critical to get it this far, that given the distances both sides had to travel, because basically what Serbia, what Milosevic, has agreed to is a major, a significant surrender of sovereignty on the issue of Kosovo."

For their part, Montville said the Kosovars, "had to surrender their desire for a clear commitment to a referendum and independence at the end of a three-year transition period."

In the end, he said the interim accord -- as he described it -- is a step in the direction of peace.

Montville said: "What it looks like is a commitment to experiment with political, social security institutions that give the Albanian majority of 90 percent basic control of managing its own life within the boundaries of Kosovo Province."

Prof. Susan Woodward of the Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and a fellow at Washington's Brookings Institution, told RFE/RL that the outcome in Rambouillet was important.

She said: "My own view is that what happened today at Rambouillet was a good thing in the sense that the negotiators -- the British, the French and the Americans in particular, had to recognize and find a way to save face; that their strategy for these negotiations had failed while still knowing that they have to accomplish something and they had to stay engaged, so that one would have liked to see an agreement, the idea of getting as far as they did today, not giving up, resuming on the 15th of March is not a bad outcome considering how far we still have yet to go."