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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 15:23 GMT

World: Europe

Kosovo rebels play for time

The KLA still has concerns about the peace deal

Leaders of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) say they need more time to consider an international peace accord for the troubled province of Kosovo.

Kosovo Section
International mediators had been predicting that the ethnic Albanian rebels were on the point of signing a deal.

US envoy Christopher Hill on Monday met with KLA leaders who told him that they accepted the peace agreement.

Mr Hill's spokesman said that the envoy - expected back in Kosovo for more talks on Tuesday - had urged the rebels to take the next step and sign the deal.

Orla Guerin in Kosovo: "It looks more like the build up to war"
But the BBC Correspondent in Kosovo, Jacky Rowland, says that KLA has made it clear that a final decision on the peace proposals is still some way off.

KLA leaders say they cannot sign without first consulting a senior official, Hashim Thaci, who has been out of the country.

But in a new development Hashim Thaci has been named in Serbian arrest warrants for eight members of the KLA.

The Yugoslav state news agency Tanjug said "the terrorist gang of Albanian separatists", were wanted on charges of "murdering citizens, attacks on members of the Yugoslav Army and police, and kidnappings of civilians".

Other negotiators, Jakup Krasniqi and Rame Buja, were named in the warrants, said Tanjug.

Mr Thaci, 30, who headed the ethnic Albanian delegation at Kosovo peace talks in Rambouillet was nominated on Tuesday to form a "provisional government" for the troubled province.

Our correspondent says the rebel leadership still has concerns on several issues, including the number of Russian troops that would participate in an international peacekeeping force, and the KLA's demand for a referendum on independence from Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia standing its ground

While negotiators were trying to secure a signature from the KLA on Monday, international mediators were also trying to persuade the rebels' opponent - Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic - to soften his stance on the peace accord.

[ image: Mr Milosevic still opposes foreign troops in Yugoslavia]
Mr Milosevic still opposes foreign troops in Yugoslavia
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told Mr Milosevic that international troops in Yugoslavia would be an essential part of any peace deal.

The Yugoslavs have repeatedly refused to allow foreign peacekeeping troops on their soil, and Mr Milosevic on Monday again stood firm against such a force.

The United States said that its special envoy to Yugoslavia, Richard Holbrooke, was due in Belgrade on Wednesday to appeal to the Yugoslav president to accept the peace proposal.

Jacky Rowland: International community may be running out of options
State Department spokesman James Rubin said Mr Holbrooke would also be pressing the Yugoslav president to act with restraint during the period leading up to 15 March when a second round of peace talks begins in France.

After initial talks at Rambouillet in February, the warring sides were said to have reached conditional agreement on substantial autonomy for Kosovo, but full agreement was reached on neither the political nor the military part of the deal.

The six-nation Contact Group is reconvening the talks on 15 March to get signatures from both sides on the political accords and discuss the details of the peace deal's implementation.

Renewed clashes

The flurry of diplomatic activity was continuing against a backdrop of renewed fighting between Serbian security forces and the ethnic Albanian fighters in southern Kosovo.

International monitors reported new clashes on Monday near the village of Kacanik near the border with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

The monitors said there was shooting and shelling southwest of Kacanik and and Serbian forces reinforced the region with a column of armoured vehicles and troops.

Ethnic Albanian sources said one KLA soldier had been killed and four others wounded, although there was no independent confirmation of the casualties.

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