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08/07/1998 20:34:53 NATO says ready for Kosovo action, Russia balks

By Jeremy Gaunt

BELGRADE, Aug 7 (Reuters) - NATO said on Friday the 16-nation military

alliance was ready to act to halt the fighting in Kosovo, but Russia again

rejected military intervention.

The Western military alliance had finalised planning for possible air

operations, a senior NATO diplomat in Brussels said. Another Alliance source

said a full arsenal of other military options was "in a high state of

readiness."

But in Pristina, Kosovo's provincial capital, Russian Deputy Foreign

Minister Nikolai Afanasyevsky said NATO intervention would not help bring peace

to Kosovo. He appealed to Serbian authorities and Albanian separatists for a

truce.

"We believe there is no military solution here. This includes possible

military action from outside," Afanasyevsky said after meeting Ibrahim Rugova,

the self-styled president of Kosovo.

In a departure from his normal hardline stand, a leading ethnic Albanian

official said the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), fighting for independence from

Serbia, had agreed to join Rugova's moderate Kosovars in a "government".

"They have been talking about the makeup of the new government for 10 days --

there should be an announcement within days," Llaz Rmajli, head of the office of

the Republic of Kosovo said.

France and Germany said they were sending their own delegation to Belgrade

to put more diplomatic pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whose

offensive against ethnic Albanian separatists has sent tens of thousands of

refugees fleeing from their homes.

Fighting in Kosovo itself was again sporadic, but security forces appeared

to be tightening the noose around KLA strongholds in the west.

A day after the United States warned Milosevic to end his offensive or face

military intervention, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said he was ready to

back international efforts to bring an end to the conflict.

Solana, on a Warsaw visit, issued a joint statement with the Polish

president expressing "disquiet" and disappointment that Milosevic had not kept

an earlier promise to stop his offensive.

In Tirana, the capital of Albania, Rugova told reporters a peace dialogue

was impossible as long as Serbian forces kept pounding separatist guerrillas and

nearby villages.

Russia's Afanasyevsky also met U.S. Kosovo envoy Chris Hill. Both had

recently had long talks with Milosevic.

Hill said he had told the Yugoslav leader that destruction of homes in

Kosovo -- many of which are reported burnt -- had to end.

"I told him this has to stop and that to say that you are interested in

refugee returns at a time when we see houses burning is simply not a meaningful

statement," Hill said.

The Beta news agency, citing Serbian sources in Pristina, said the interior

ministry planned to investigate alleged excesses by security forces, including

house burnings.

Milosevic has said he is ready to negotiate with Kosovars on autonomy, but

the ethnic Albanians have been unable to agree a negotiation team among

themselves.

But this may soon change, as Rugova's "government", when it is formed, is

expected to be the basis for the negotiating team to meet with Milosevic on

Kosovo's future.

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