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Albanians to Sign Agreement; Serbs Face Threat from NATO

By Roy Gutman
NEWSDAY -- WASHINGTON

Kosovo Albanians formally announced Monday they will sign a U.S.-sponsored autonomy accord for the Serbian province. The announcement focused pressure on the Serbs, and NATO’s secretary-general promptly warned that the alliance could strike pre-emptively against Serbia to avert a human rights “catastrophe.”

Albanian guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci notified the State Department in writing and made the announcement at the opening of a second round of talks with Serb officials, in Paris. “This is not an ideal solution, but peace in Kosovo has no price,” he said.

Javier Solana, NATO’s secretary-general, broke into a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington with the news. “They are going to sign. There is no question about it,” he said.

He then laid out NATO’s rationale for using force against Serbia: to avert a “humanitarian catastrophe” like the one last summer in which hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were driven from their homes.

Solana warned that if Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic does not agree to the plan, under discussion when talks suspended last month, “we probably will have a humanitarian catastrophe,” with tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians made homeless by the fighting, which continues to rage.

“We have to be prepared to stop that violence ... We will be able to stop that,” the former Spanish foreign minister said in a new explanation of NATO’s rationale. “Our purpose is to damage, and damage seriously, the capacity of the VJ (Yugoslav Army) and MUP (federal police) to produce a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Milosevic has repeatedly rejected the plan, which would oust more than 25,000 security personnel and replace them with 28,000 NATO troops, including 4,000 Americans. The Albanians had objected to the plan because it called for disarming the guerrilla army and made no provision for a referendum on independence.