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Albright Meets Yugoslav Leaders Briefly, Discusses Presevo Valley

By Paul Watson
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- VIENNA, Austria

The postwar wall of distrust between Yugoslavia and the United States crumbled a bit more Monday as Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica shook hands and spoke briefly here with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The surprise meeting was the highest-level contact between the two governments in the nearly 18 months since the United States led a 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia to end a vicious civil war in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

After her chat with Kostunica on the sidelines of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe gathering, Albright briefly met with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic to discuss attacks by ethnic Albanian rebels in southern Serbia’s Presevo Valley, a State Department official said.

The discussion between Albright and Svilanovic was along the lines of “what can you do, what can we do?” said the official, who requested anonymity, citing department policy.

The two were “looking at how to really calm the violence there because we all recognize it’s counterproductive,” the official added.

Ethnic Albanian rebels attacked deep into an area of southern Serbia along the border with Kosovo, a Serbian province under international control since the war ended in June 1999. Serbia is the dominant republic of Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav army responded Sunday by deploying tanks near the border and warning of a possible counterattack.

Yugoslavia and the rebels, who want to unite a mainly ethnic Albanian zone of southern Serbia proper with an eventually independent Kosovo, backed away slightly Monday from earlier threats and counter-threats. The rebels announced that they will continue a cease-fire until Friday. Yugoslav officials extended a Monday deadline for the international community to crack down on the incursion and said they would be satisfied if the guerrillas withdrew by Friday.

The ethnic Albanian fighters call themselves the Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac Liberation Army, after the three main towns in the zone.