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Yugoslavia Is Seeking A Deal With Moderate Ethnic Leader

By David Holley and Norman Kempster
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- PODGORICA, Yugoslavia

The Yugoslav government, desperately seeking a way to get NATO to stop bombing, appears to believe that a political deal with moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova may be the key to avoiding a far larger war in Kosovo.

The immediate goal of President Slobodan Milosevic is a bombing pause, perhaps granted in return for concessions by Belgrade that could include the release of three U.S. soldiers captured last week on the Macedonian-Kosovo border.

Other elements in Milosevic’s game plan include ongoing mediation efforts by Russia; the announcement this week of a unilateral cease-fire against Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas in Kosovo; and the welcoming to Belgrade last week of papal envoy Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran.

The efforts to strike a deal with Rugova are central to Belgrade’s strategy for ending the war, Milan Bozic, minister without portfolio in the Yugoslav government, said in a telephone interview from Belgrade Thursday. Bozic downplayed the importance of any possible release of the captured soldiers, and the United States has rejected any deal to gain their freedom.

The Clinton administration says it won’t end the bombing unless Milosevic agrees unconditionally to all of NATO’s demands: end military action against the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo; withdraw all army, special police and paramilitary units from the Serbian province; and allow refugees to return to their homes under the protection of a NATO-led international peacekeeping force.

“I think President Milosevic would be making a mistake to believe that anything that doesn’t meet the demands laid out by the NATO alliance would bring an end to these hostilities,” White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said.

Belgrade is searching, however, for some kind of solution that falls far short of meeting NATO’s demands. Milosevic’s maneuvers also may have other aims: trying to shore up his domestic support by placing blame for continued fighting on NATO, to improve his international image.