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U.S. Sends Holbrooke as Envoy In New Balkan Peace Mission

By Mark Matthews
THE BALTIMORE SUN -- WASHINGTON

The Clinton administration intensified efforts to end fighting in the Serbian province of Kosovo Monday, tapping special envoy Richard Holbrooke to wring agreement from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for a U.S.-brokered peace plan.

The State Department also reported a new pledge by the Kosovo Liberation Army to sign the accord, signaling that the ethnic Albanian rebels had buried their internal disagreements under Western pressure.

The latest developments brought the clearest signs in a week of progress toward a peace agreement and with it, the expected deployment of a 28,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo that would include up to 4,000 American soldiers.

But they occurred against a backdrop of new friction between Serbs and the West in nearby Bosnia, where warring sides are separated by European and American peacekeepers. And U.S. officials offered no assurance that a peace deal for Kosovo actually will be reached.

Administration officials said that Holbrooke, who has been nominated as ambassador to the United Nations, would go to Yugoslavia in time to hold meetings in Belgrade, the capital, Wednesday.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said Holbrooke would convey to Serb officials “the necessity for full compliance with all of their commitments to the international community.”

Holbrooke has the administration’s best track record of gaining cooperation from Milosevic, having brought him into the 1995 negotiations over Bosnia than ended with the Dayton accords.

He also won a cease-fire from Milosevic and the KLA last October, but it was in tatters two months later, necessitating a new diplomatic campaign to end the war. Western officials fear that Kosovo could spark a regionwide conflict.

Holbrooke’s foray provides him with his first opportunity to demonstrate anew his negotiating skills since the end of a months-long ethics probe that clouded his confirmation prospects.