Rambouillet France



Keywords: Rambouillet France
Description: Kosova Deal Deadline Extended Three Days Kosova Peace Talks Extended; Group Chides Belgrade Serbs Win Reprieve In Kosova Peace Talks Kosova Albanians Accept Peace Deal In

  • Kosova Deal Deadline Extended Three Days
  • Kosova Peace Talks Extended; Group Chides Belgrade
  • Serbs Win Reprieve In Kosova Peace Talks
  • Kosova Albanians Accept Peace Deal In Principle
  • Kosova Civilians Flee Serb Attack
  • Kosova Guerrillas Smell a Rat at Rambouillet Talks
  • Serbs Standing Firm Against Peace Plan, Despite International Pressure
  • Kosova peace talks nearing deadline; NATO prepares to act
  • Allies Reiterate Threats to Serbs Albright to Join Kosova Peace Talks
  • Western diplomats leaving Belgrade as Kosova deadline nears
  • U.S. prepares for war or peace in Kosova
  • Diplomats Leaving Yugoslavia as Kosova Peace Talks Near Deadline
  • Kosova Deal Hinges on NATO Role
  • Next 24 Hours Should Settle Kosova's Fate
  • Americans and Brits in 70 percent of Kosova
  • Yeltsin Vows to Disallow Force in Kosova
  • Ready for Trouble in Yugoslavia

RAMBOUILLET, France (Reuters) - The major power Contact Group Saturday extended the deadline for a Kosova peace accord until Tuesday after Serbs and ethnic Albanians neared a political deal but Belgrade continued to oppose a NATO role in policing it.

By the original noon (1100 GMT) deadline, both delegations fell short of totally agreeing with the plan, drafted by the six-nation Contact Group, that would establish ethnic Albanian autonomy in the Serbian province, French officials said.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told a press conference at Rambouillet castle outside Paris that both sides now had until 1400 GMT Tuesday to agree to the peace plan in order to avert NATO strikes on Serbia.

Vedrine said that the deadline was extended because ``very substantial progress has been made on reaching agreement on the framework and political chapters (of) the (three-year) interim agreement.''

But he said Belgrade was putting up the biggest resistance to the accord by objecting to the West's demand for a NATO peacekeeping force to implement it on the ground.

``It is still the Yugoslav delegation which refuses to take the decisions which seem indispensable to us.

``Until the whole deal is agreed, no part of the deal can be agreed,'' he said, adding that what the Contact Group was asking of Belgrade ``demands sacrifices.''

NATO had threatened to bomb Serbian targets if Belgrade was held responsible for blocking a final agreement. But diplomats said the results of the Rambouillet talks so far were not clear-cut and there was scope for further negotiation.

Earlier in the day, a European diplomat had said that the ethnic Albanian delegation was still holding out for a referendum on self-determination after three years of autonomy and had not budged.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the Serbs bore the ``lion's share'' of blame for obstacles to an accord.

But she said she believed remaining disputes could be overcome and had no plans to fly to Belgrade for any last-ditch talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

``Let me stress that we expect nothing less than a complete interim agreement including Belgrade's acceptance of a NATO-led force. she told the news conference.

``Until the parties have accepted all provisions of the agreement, preparations for NATO military action will continue. And if that agreement is not confirmed by Tuesday, (NATO) Secretary General (Javier) Solana will draw the appropriate conclusions.''

Some 430 NATO warplanes -- including 260 U.S. jets -- were on alert for possible strikes against Yugoslavia.

A senior U.S. official earlier accused the Serbs of refusing to engage seriously on military issues. But other diplomats said a formula might be found allowing a neutrally named NATO-led force under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council.

Far from the byzantine diplomacy inside Rambouillet's 14th-century French chateau, fighting flared anew in Kosova Saturday when Serbian security forces shelled an ethnic Albanian village, sending hundreds of inhabitants fleeing.

Groups of Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas took cover as Serbian army and police units pummeled the village southwest of the provincial capital Pristina, with heavy mortar rounds and machineguns, witnesses and journalists at the scene said.

International monitors had reported heightened Serbian military movements Friday and a heavy exchange of fire Saturday with KLA guerrillas, who are fighting for independence for Kosova and have representatives at the peace talks.

In Rambouillet, Serbian sources said they were ready to sign the political document on autonomy but an international military presence was unacceptable unless Yugoslavia as a sovereign state invited NATO and Russia to send troops.

``The Russians are 100 percent behind our delegation in opposing any military deal. Some of the Europeans also have reservations,'' the source said as Serbian republic President Milan Milutinovic continued talks with Western ministers.

State Department spokesman James Rubin insisted there could be no separation of the political and military aspects of an accord. NATO wants to uphold any accord with 28,000 soldiers.

Underlining the gravity of the situation, Western governments began evacuating diplomats, aid workers and their families from Serbia, the main republic in federal Yugoslavia.

RAMBOUILLET, France (Reuters) - The major power Contact Group extended Kosova peace talks until Tuesday to continue discussing peacekeeping arrangements opposed by Belgrade, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said Saturday.

``It is still the Yugoslav delegation which refuses to take the decisions which seem indispensable to us,'' he told a news conference. ``It should be over Tuesday at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT).

Vedrine, co-sponsor with British Foreign Minister Robin Cook of the two-week talks, said the Serbian and ethnic Albanian delegations had made much progress on the political half of the deal foreseeing substantial autonomy for the majority ethnic Albanian province of Kosova.

The talks at a secluded chateau outside Paris were scheduled to end Saturday at noon (1100 GMT), with the threat of NATO airstrikes against Yugoslav military targets if Belgrade held up a deal.

RAMBOUILLET, France (Reuters) - The major powers Saturday extended the deadline for a Kosova peace accord until Tuesday after Serbs and ethnic Albanians neared a political deal but Belgrade continued to oppose a NATO role in policing it.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic he should not misinterpret the three-day reprieve as a sign of weakness, stressing that NATO planning for military action against Serbia would continue.

By the original noon (6 a.m. EST) deadline, both delegations fell short of totally agreeing on the plan, drafted by the six-nation Contact Group, that would establish ethnic Albanian autonomy for three years in the Serbian province.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told a news conference that both sides now had until 9 a.m. EST Tuesday to agree to the peace plan and avert NATO air strikes.

Vedrine said the deadline was extended because ``very substantial progress has been made on reaching agreement on the framework and political chapters (of) the interim agreement.''

But he said Belgrade was putting up the biggest resistance to the accord by objecting to the West's demand for a NATO peacekeeping force to implement it on the ground.

``It is still the Yugoslav delegation which refuses to take the decisions which seem indispensable to us,'' he said.

Albright told reporters the Serbs bore ``the lion's share'' of the blame. But Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, baring differences of emphasis even among the Western ministers, said: ``It would be wrong to blame only the Serbs.''

The Serbs had accepted the formula for autonomy presented by international mediators, while the ethnic Albanians were still holding out for a referendum after the three-year period of interim autonomy, he said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Avdeyev said it was entirely up to Yugoslavia whether it wanted to have foreign troops on its soil, and NATO had no right to impose itself or take military action without a U.N. mandate.

NATO had threatened to bomb Serbian targets if Belgrade was held responsible for blocking a final agreement.

Albright said she believed remaining disputes could be overcome and had no plans to fly to Belgrade for any last-ditch talks with Milosevic.

``Let me stress that we expect nothing less than a complete interim agreement including Belgrade's acceptance of a NATO-led force. '' she told the news conference.

``Until the parties have accepted all provisions of the agreement, preparations for NATO military action will continue. And if that agreement is not confirmed by Tuesday, (NATO) Secretary-General (Javier) Solana will draw the appropriate conclusions.''

Some 430 NATO warplanes -- including 260 U.S. jets -- were on alert for possible strikes against Yugoslavia.

In the entire two weeks, the full Serbian and ethnic Albanian delegations only once sat in the same room. Hostility remains so deep that chief Albanian representative Hashim Thaqi accused the Serbs Saturday of threatening to kill him if he did not sign the political agreement.

A Serbian source said that at Saturday's final session after hours of ``proximity talks'' the delegation leaders were ushered separately into a meeting of the six Contact Group ministers and asked, almost as if they were in court, how they pleaded.

Diplomats voiced hope that a formula might be found allowing a neutrally named NATO-led force under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council.

Far from the Byzantine diplomacy inside Rambouillet's 14th-century French chateau, fighting flared anew in Kosova Saturday when Serbian security forces shelled an ethnic Albanian village, sending hundreds of inhabitants fleeing.

Groups of Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas took cover as Serbian army and police units pummeled the village southwest of the provincial capital Pristina, with heavy mortar rounds and machineguns, witnesses and journalists at the scene said.

International monitors had reported heightened Serbian military movements Friday and a heavy exchange of fire Saturday with KLA guerrillas, who are fighting for independence for Kosova and have representatives at the peace talks.

Underlining the gravity of the situation, Western governments began evacuating diplomats, aid workers and their families from Serbia, the main republic in federal Yugoslavia.

RAMBOUILLET, France (Reuters) - The ethnic Albanian delegation at Kosova peace talks in France told the six-nation Contact Group Saturday that it accepted in principle a proposed interim agreement, a European diplomat said.

``The Kosova Albanians have said 'yes' in principle. They sought two minor changes and we are going to try to accommodate them,'' the diplomat told Reuters after the Albanian delegation presented its formal reply to Contact Group ministers.

The diplomat said the Yugoslav and Serbian delegation had not yet given its reply on the proposals for far-reaching autonomy for Kosova to be policed by a NATO-led international force. They were due to meet the Contact Group ministers after the ethnic Albanians, he said.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's opposition to any NATO military presence in his country has been the main sticking point in two weeks of negotiations at a secluded chateau in Rambouillet, near Paris.

Negotiations continued for some five hours after a noon (1100 GMT) deadline and diplomats said the Serbian side had made significant progress on the political aspects of an accord. But State Department spokesman James Rubin stressed the political and military aspects could not be separated.

STUDENCANE, Serbia (Reuters) - Hundreds of ethnic Albanian civilians fled the Kosova village of Studencane Saturday after it came under sustained Serbian artillery, sniper and small arms fire, witnesses said.

``What prompted what happened here today we don't know,'' said George Bordete, a Canadian monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), observing the battle from a hill above the central Kosova village.

The Serbian Media Center in Kosova's provincial capital Pristina said the fighting began when a police convoy came under attack shortly after noon.

``All we're trying to do is stop it. In the heat of battle it's sometimes hard to get local commanders involved in directing troops to talk to you.''

As he spoke, waves of small arms fire could be heard from trench lines to the east and heavy mortar bombs, believed to be 120mm, crashed into Studencane from the Serbian side.

The OSCE monitor said that one of his men who had strayed too far from their signature day-glo orange armored vehicle had been shot at four times from Serbian positions.

He confirmed what reporters on the scene observed: heavy mortar bombs falling at a rate of one every five-to-seven minutes during the afternoon.

The fighting came as peace talks in Rambouillet, France, called to end fighting between separatist ethnic Albanians and Serbs, were extended until Tuesday after failing to reach agreement by a Saturday noon deadline.

Directing the KLA forces was Commander ``Drini,'' one of seven zone commanders for the guerrilla forces in Kosova.

Interviewed in a shop front stacked from floor to ceiling with bottled soft drinks and where plate-glass windows rattled in their frames with every mortar bomb impact, Drini said his lines around Studencane were stable after a day of attacks.

``I've been an optimist about the talks in Rambouillet and I've been waiting for some good results but you can see for yourself what's going on here.''

Drini said thousands of civilians had evacuated Studencane. OSCE said they had observed hundreds leaving between noon and about 5 p.m.

Some of the refugees were headed south toward Prizren and others were spotted moving north in the direction of the Pagarusa valley, where thousands of ethnic Albanians sheltered from Serbian attacks over the summer.

PRISTINA, Feb 19 (Reuters) - International mediators are angling to blame ethnic Albanians if Kosova peace talks in France collapse, a senior separatist guerrilla officer said in an interview published on Friday.

"With this stealthy manoeuvre the sponsors of this conference want to blame the side which so far has been the most cooperative," said Hashim Thaqi, political director of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) and a participant in the negotiations at the chateau in Rambouillet.

His comments were made on Thursday to Kosovapress, the KLA media outlet, and reported on Friday in Koha Ditore, Kosova's leading Albanian-language daily newspaper.

Thaqi based his complaint on the most recent variant of a draft agreement on autonomy for Kosova presented by the mediators, which he said "did not have any positive amendments in it in comparison to the previous one."

"On the contrary," he added, "it includes all the main issues that the Serb side insisted upon."

"We believe that this is an attempt to bring before the Kosova delegation an issue that has already been settled in order to put the blame on the delegation."

Serbian and ethnic Albanian delegates have been holed up in a 14th-century chateau outside Paris for nearly two weeks trying to agree on a form of autonomy for Kosova.

The six-nation Contact Group, sponsors and mediators of the talks, have given the parties until noon on Saturday to conclude a deal or face the consequences, which in the case of the Serbian side could include NATO air strikes.

Mediators have generally praised the ethnic Albanian side for seriousness in the talks and blamed the Serbs for dragging their feet.

The content of substantive discussions have been kept private and many details of the proposed deal remain a mystery.

Thaqi commands great respect within the ranks of the KLA and is regarded by some as first among equals within the five-man KLA team that sits as part of the Albanian side at Rambouillet.

The KLA is fighting for independence but will have to accept some form of internationally agreed autonomy if it hopes to sign an agreement at Rambouillet.

The Serbian side has been raising the most serious and consistent public objections to the proposed peace deal.

Thaqi, in his comments, may simply have been trying to ensure that no last-minute concessions are made to Belgrade to secure a Serbian signature at ethnic Albanian expense.

The KLA leader insisted that his side was interested in peace but only if it were just and equitable.

"Kosova is between two roads, between war and peace," he said in the interview. "We are interested in peace, but a fair peace. The war road won't lead anywhere good. but we are fighting a fair war and we will win."

(Belgrade, Yugoslavia-AP) -- With a deadline for a Kosova peace deal fast approaching, Serb leaders remain defiant against putting NATO peacekeepers in the troubled province.

American envoy Christopher Hill has arrived in Belgrade to make a last-ditch appeal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (sloh-BOH'-dahn mee-LOH'-shuh-vich), and to make it clear that NATO will launch air strikes if a deal is not reached. Hill has been mediating the Kosova peace talks in France.

Before Hill's arrival, Milosevic wasn't sounding like a man about to back down. The country's official news agency has Milosevic defiantly rejecting a NATO force, saying "We will not give away Kosova, not even at the price of bombing."

RAMBOUILLET, France (CNN) -- With peace talks heading toward failure, mediators launched a last-ditch push Friday to persuade Serbs to sign a peace agreement with Kosova's ethnic Albanians before a Saturday deadline expires.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was scheduled to return to France Friday to try to persuade the Serbs to allow foreign peacekeeping troops onto Yugoslav soil to monitor a peace agreement -- if one is reached.

The Serbs' refusal so far is threatening to derail negotiations in Rambouillet that are aimed at ending the yearlong conflict in Kosova, a province in southern Serbia, one of two republics in Yugoslavia.

Some 2,000 people have died in the fighting since Serbs launched a crackdown last year against ethnic Albanian separatists seeking independence for Kosova.

The Serbs are refusing to agree to a Western demand that any deal for Kosova be policed by 30,000 NATO troops, including 4,000 American soldiers.

NATO has threatened airstrikes against Serbia if an agreement is not reached by noon Central European time (6:00 a.m. EST) Saturday.

About 430 NATO strike and support planes -- including 260 U.S. jets -- are on alert. A Pentagon official suggested an initial strike of 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles could send a sharp message to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic without risking alliance warplanes.

Although negotiators in Rambouillet said progress was still being made, Albright said she had told Milosevic he would be "hit hard" if the negotiations failed.

"Either he will see the Kosova agreement as a way to deal with the Kosova situation or he can decide he will take his country into a desperate, chaotic situation," she said.

Serbian President Milan Milutinovic pleaded with the United States and the five European nations trying to work out a peace agreement for the Serb province to stop pressuring Yugoslavia into accepting NATO troops and instead focus on political matters.

"Threats, pressure and ultimatums over the troops can only distance the participants in the talks from the essence of the problem and a much-needed political agreement about the problems in Kosova," the official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug quoted Milutinovic as saying.

Sources close to the Serbian delegation at the talks said if the pressure continued, they might consider allowing international troops in Kosova, but only if they did not include soldiers from "unfriendly" nations such as the United States, Germany, Britain and France.

International pressure on Milosevic reached a new height on Thursday. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana warned the alliance would strike fast if there was no deal and Britain, France and Germany all issued new pleas to Yugoslavia to settle.

The White House dismissed a warning by Russian President Boris Yeltsin on Thursday that Russia "will not let you (the United States) touch Kosova."

"We're aware that Russia has opposed the use of force in Kosova," said David Leavy, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council.

"But we've also made clear that should the Serbs refuse to comply and refuse to sign a political settlement, that NATO has to consider military action in its own interests, in the interests of the region and the interests of the United States, and we will do so," he said.

Some Western embassies in the Yugoslav capital have announced plans to withdraw staff before the Saturday deadline.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill, who is leading the peace talks, said "substantial progress" was being made but acknowledged that there was more work to be done.

Warnings to Belgrade delivered by Foreign Ministers Hubert Vedrine of France and Robin Cook of Britain, co-hosts of the conference, were unforgiving.

"Either end the conflict and bring Yugoslavia into the family of modern European nations, or thrust it once again into a cycle of internal conflicts and isolation," the ministers said.

BERLIN, Feb. 18—With the clock ticking toward a noon Saturday deadline, the United States and its European allies combined renewed threats of NATO bombing with last-minute diplomatic maneuvering today to pressure Yugoslav officials and ethnic Albanian leaders to accept a peace accord for the war-torn Serbian province of Kosova.

The principal stumbling block to achieving an agreement at the 12-day-old Kosova peace talks outside Paris remains the opposition of the Serb-led Belgrade government to accepting a NATO-led force of 28,000 peacekeeping troops on Serbian soil. In an effort to break the impasse, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright plans to leave for France Friday to make a last-ditch attempt to persuade the Yugoslav-Serbian side to drop its opposition to the peacekeeping force.

Senior diplomatic sources said a final ultimatum to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who wields ultimate power over the Serbian delegation at the talks in Rambouillet, France, would include a warning that 430 NATO aircraft, including F-117 stealth fighter jets and B-52 bombers, are ready to launch punitive bombing raids if his negotiators block an agreement. The NATO bombing would begin by knocking out Yugoslav air defense systems and escalate into strikes against the bases of Serbian paramilitary forces that have waged an offensive against ethnic Albanian separatist guerrillas in Kosova for the past year.

Albright said she spoke by telephone today with Milosevic and described the grave risks he was courting. "He should understand that if airstrikes occur, he will be hit hard, and he will be deprived of the things he values," Albright said. "I think he understands that this is a key moment in terms of the future of. Yugoslavia."

Kosova -- a province Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic -- has a population of about 2 million people, 90 percent of them ethnic Albanians.

Even as NATO warplanes within striking range of Yugoslavia were placed on 48-hour alert, alliance defense chiefs were preparing for an alternative scenario if the two sides should come to an agreement -- the immediate deployment of a vanguard peacekeeping force that would hit the ground only hours after a peace deal is signed.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has committed a force of 1,855 Marines to become part of the first wave of 7,000 NATO peacekeeping troops that would move into Kosova by way of the Aegean Sea, Greece and Macedonia. In addition, U.S. Army troops in Europe, who would compose the bulk of the 4,000-member American force that would take part in the peacekeeping mission, began training for their possible deployment.

Western diplomatic sources said Milosevic was being offered some incentives to agree to a peace accord, such as relief from political and economic sanctions, which include a ban on participation in international financial institutions. Yugoslavia might also gain greater flexibility on military matters included in any peace settlement, such as an increase in the number of troops it would be allowed to position along Kosova's border with Albania.

If the final hours before Saturday's deadline produce signs that Milosevic is willing to make concessions, senior Western officials said it is possible that the deadline might be postponed by a day or two. But they emphasized that if Belgrade's intransigence thwarts an agreement, it is almost a certainty that NATO airstrikes would begin by early next week.

NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, who was given authority three weeks ago by the 16 NATO members to determine when to launch airstrikes, indicated he would not hesitate long. "It would be very soon," Solana said at a news conference today in Macedonia. "If an agreement is not reached, if the negotiations fail, NATO knows very well what to do."

As a precaution against Yugoslav retaliation, the United States, Britain and Canada demanded that all nonessential personnel be evacuated from their embassies in Belgrade by Saturday. They also advised all of their citizens to leave Yugoslavia.

Preparations to evacuate the 1,200 members of an international mission assigned to verify a Kosova truce that has all but collapsed also are underway. Albright met today with Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, who heads the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is responsible for the mission, to discuss "the very real possibility" that its members would need to be removed ahead of NATO airstrikes.

NATO diplomats acknowledge there are lingering anxieties among some European allies about the wisdom of launching airstrikes, especially in the absence of any explicit authority from the U.N. Security Council. Russia has been adamantly opposed to NATO bombing raids, and President Boris Yeltsin expressed his opposition to the alliance's intervention again today.

NATO diplomats said there were concerns within the alliance about whether airstrikes could backfire on Western strategy. Even if the Serbs were bombed back to the negotiating table, the attacks might embolden the main ethnic Albanian rebel group, the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), to fight on for independence. While opposing independence for Kosova, the United States and its European allies have proposed a restoration of the province's autonomy, which Milosevic, as president of Serbia, rescinded 10 years ago.

"The alliance has always said it did not want serve as the KLA's air force," a senior NATO diplomat said. "But if we start bombing and the Albanians see the chance to gain independence on the ground, there is little hope they would come back to negotiations even if Milosevic had a change of heart."

The 1,855 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit would join a French-led force based in Macedonia and NATO rapid-reaction units based in Germany, all under the command of British Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson, as part of the first wave of peacekeeping troops into Kosova.

That "enabling force" would secure transport and communication routes between Macedonia and Pristina, Kosova's capital. Troops and equipment would then begin moving through Greece and Macedonia from the Aegean port of Thessaloniki.

Regardless of how the negotiations turn out, alliance military officials said they were bracing this weekend for the biggest projection of military power since a NATO-led peacekeeping force moved into Bosnia more than three years ago to supervise the truce established by the Dayton accords.

"We're still hoping for a political agreement that will send in our troops in a peaceful environment," a senior NATO diplomat said. "But if we are forced to launch bombs instead, our aircraft are well-positioned to the job. We just hope it won't prove necessary."

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- With time running out for negotiators to reach an agreement over Kosova or face NATO airstrikes, Western embassies and aid agencies in Yugoslavia announced plans to withdraw staff before the Saturday peace deal deadline.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington on Thursday said progress "was far too slow" at the peace talks in France, and that U.S. diplomats were beginning planning in case they needed to evacuate staff from the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.

She said she warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that if airstrikes occur "he'll be hit hard."

Meanwhile, mediators at the Kosova peace conference presented rival Serbs and ethnic Albanians with a "final version" of a political settlement for the embattled province.

Albright said she discussed with Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, who also heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the "very real possibility" that if the current stalemate continues, the OSCE's verification mission would have to be evacuated ahead of NATO airstrikes.

"The next two days will show whether such action is indeed necessary. I think I can speak for (Vollebaek) in saying that we are both confident that the mission and NATO are ready for any eventuality," she said.

The State Department announced late Thursday that Albright would return to France Saturday "to urge both sides in the negotiations at Rambouillet to seize this opportunity to achieve an interim settlement agreement for Kosova."

The Canadian and British embassies also said Thursday they would start withdrawing staff as the Saturday deadline approached.

The British Embassy advised British nationals to leave Yugoslavia immediately "in view of the increasingly volatile situation."

"There is increased tension in the air," said one Canadian diplomat, who said 11 diplomats and their families would leave Friday, but that the embassy in Belgrade would remain open with reduced staff.

"We have 22 expatriates in the country, and we'll go down to a core staff of less than 10," said Bob Turner of the International Rescue Committee.

Representatives of all the nongovernmental organizations operating in Kosova were to meet Friday to review their evacuation plans.

Vollebaek backed Albright in demanding an agreement by noontime Saturday, the deadline set by a six-nation Contact Group that has been mediating the talks in Rambouillet, France.

He said he had urged Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to put pressure on Milosevic to accept NATO peacekeepers in Kosova as part of any peace accord.

Milosevic has flatly rejected the deployment of international peacekeepers in the Serbian province, which Western mediators and NATO officials have said are necessary to enforce any agreement.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in Macedonia on Thursday that NATO airstrikes against Serbian military targets could start "very soon" if the talks failed.

The United States has ordered an additional 51 warplanes to Europe to beef up forces already on standby for possible action in the Balkans.

The action prompted Russian President Boris Yeltsin to warn that Moscow "will not allow Kosova to be touched."

Russia, which has adamantly opposed the use of force against Yugoslavia, is a member of the Contact Group, along with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy.

Christopher Hill, the U.S. diplomat who is the chief mediator at the peace talks, said Thursday that commentaries from both sides had been studied and amalgamated into a document, and that both sides had been sent "a kind invitation to consider it as a final version."

"There are people on both sides who are unhappy with it," he said. "We intend to get this (signed) by noontime on Saturday."

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Whether it's war or peace in Kosova, the United States on Thursday was preparing militarily for either possibility.

The Clinton administration again warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of the threat of NATO-led airstrikes against Serb military installations if there is no peace deal with Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority by noon on Saturday.

But, if an agreement is reached, other U.S. military personnel are set to join an international peacekeeping force.

"There are these two paths that we are focused on," said Capt. Mike Doubleday, a Pentagon spokesman.

The United States and its allies hope the threat of force will intimidate Milosevic into accepting their plan to end a yearlong conflict between Serb troops and secession-minded ethnic Albanians in Kosova, a province in the dominant Yugoslav state of Serbia.

Negotiations taking place outside Paris appear to be deadlocked over the Serbian refusal to tolerate any outside peacekeeping force on Serb territory.

The plan backed by the six-nation Contact Group -- the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Italy -- calls for Milosevic to pull most Serb troops out of Kosova and replace them with some 28,000 NATO peacekeepers, including about 4,000 U.S. troops.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is to return to France Saturday to encourage both sides to hammer out a peace deal. Albright said Thursday she had spoken to Milosevic by telephone, warning him that "he will be hit hard and he will be deprived of the things he values" if Saturday's deadline is not met.

Albright gave credence to the warning by announcing that the United States had begun planning for the possible evacuation of U.S. embassies. While she did not say where American diplomats may be withdrawn, a senior U.S. official said the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade was an obvious choice, because the diplomats could not remain during a NATO bombing campaign.

The Pentagon was proceeding with plans, first announced on Wednesday night, to add 51 U.S. warplanes to an already powerful attack force in Europe. (Full story).

Doubleday said the planes, including a dozen F-117 stealth fighters, would leave the United States for bases in Europe within the next 48 hours.

With the additional planes, there are 260 U.S. aircraft available for any NATO strikes against Serbia, Defense Secretary William Cohen said in Seattle.

The Pentagon also is studying the possible use of ship-fired Tomahawk cruise missiles, said U.S. officials who asked not to be identified. Doubleday declined to confirm that cruise missiles would be used, but added, "I would not rule out that particular weapons system."

About 2,200 Marines aboard three Navy vessels continued heading toward Greece so some of them can arrive in Kosova within days of any peace agreement.

Current plans call for 1,350 of the Marines to go ashore at the Greek port of Thessaloniki, travel overland to a staging base in Macedonia, then proceed to Kosova, where they would join other NATO troops that would eventually make up a force that would stay for at least three years.

Within a month or two, the U.S. Marines would be replaced by about 4,000 soldiers from the U.S. Army's First Infantry Division, based in Germany. They would fly in, while their equipment was brought in through Greece and Macedonia.

Western embassies began evacuating staff and NATO troops stood poised at Yugoslavia's border Friday, ready to pull international monitors to safety as the deadline approached for a peace agreement for Kosova.

Hopes for a last-minute breakthrough were dealt a blow as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic insisted he would not back down over the province even if NATO goes through with promised airstrikes.

The American mediator for the talks in France, Christopher Hill, arrived in the Yugoslav capital for talks with Milosevic in a last-ditch bid to strike a deal before the Saturday noon deadlline.

With NATO threatening airstrikes should the deadline pass without an accord between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, some residents of Kosova's provincial capital, Pristina, started stocking up on food, fearful of both airstrikes and retaliatory attacks by Serb forces.

About 2,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands been driven from their homes in a year of conflict in Kosova. Ethnic Albanians make up 90 percent of the province, and most want independence from Serbia, Yugoslavia's main republic.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana refused to say how soon airstrikes would come if the deadline passed with no deal, ``but let me say this would be soon.''

Solana spoke Thursday from neighboring Macedonia, where he was simultaneously overseeing plans for either deployment of peace troops to enforce any peace accord or for an ``extraction force'' that would help evacuate 1,300 international monitors ahead of NATO bombing.

Yugoslavia has vehemently rejected the deployment of a NATO peacekeeping force, which the United States and its European allies say is vital to enforce any peace deal.

Shortly before Hill's arrival, Milosevic defiantly rejected the NATO force, even in the face airstrikes.

``We will not give away Kosova, not even at the price of bombing,'' he said, quoted by the official Tanjug news agency.

Milan Milutinovic, the president of Serbia warned that Western threats ``can only distance'' the negotiations from reaching a deal.

With the deadline looming, Western embassies in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, prepared to send nonessential staff and dependents out of the country. Canadian diplomatic families were seen packing into cars today and heading out for the Hungarian capital Budapest. Staff in the Dutch Embassy were also departing.

In Pristina, Col. Mike Philips said the monitors who are in Kosova to oversee an earlier cease-fire were preparing for a quick evacuation if necessary. But he said the force remains in place today.

Meanwhile, Serb military convoys were on the move across southern Kosova, in what monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe suspected might be a show of force ahead of the deadline.

Tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery rolled along the main roads, in lines up to 30 vehicles long. The government in Yugoslavia's other republic, Montenegro, was reportedly calling up reservists; similar mobilizations were rumored to be taking place in Kosova.

``The Americans ask too much, so what the hell,'' said Dragan, a 25-year-old Serb in Kosova Polje, a Serb-dominated town outside Pristina.

``If they bomb, we'll just finish off the rebels, and that'll be it,'' said Dragan, who would give only his first name.

``There has to be some agreement,'' said Esat Dauti, talking with a friend on an icy street. ``There's no other way.''

On a front line in the north, Kosova Albanian guerrillas kept government forces in their rifle sights, fully expecting imminent bloodshed across the province, including Pristina.

``If they start to bomb Serbia, the police and army will burn the whole place,'' said one rebel commander stationed at an outpost 600 yards from a Serb tank that stood sentry on a snowy hill.

RAMBOUILLET, France, February 19 (Reuters) - With 24 hours to go, a peace deal for Kosova hinges on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic grudgingly accepting NATO troops on his soil.

The key to that question lies in Belgrade, not Rambouillet, which is why chief U.S. mediator Christopher Hill flew to the Yugoslav capital on Friday hoping that the threat of NATO air strikes would induce Milosevic to relent before Saturday's noon (1100 GMT) deadline.

Despite misgivings among the province's ethnic Albanians about giving up their arms without a guarantee of an eventual referendum on independence, diplomats say they are convinced the Albanians will sign on Saturday.

But Milosevic is seeking a high price for his surrender, including the lifting of U.N. and European Union sanctions, readmission to international bodies, financial aid and, perhaps most awkwardly, an assurance that he will not be prosecuted for alleged war crimes, Serbian sources say.

EU officials are willing to grant some of Milosevic's wishes on sanctions and aid, arguing that if he accepts NATO-policed autonomy for Kosova, he will be complying with the will of the international community.

The United States is much less keen to reward the man it now sees as the root of the Balkans' problems for the last decade.

"This is not about carrots and sticks. It's about him complying or getting bombed," a U.S. official said.

Some Yugoslav analysts wonder whether Milosevic does not need to endure some NATO air strikes to show his people he is conceding only under extreme duress to spare further damage. But Western officials are working on the assumption he wants to avoid bombing.

Even if there is a Kosova deal, they say several other obstacles to normalisation with Yugoslavia would remain, including the absence of a free media and shortcomings in civil and political rights.

A European diplomat confirmed there had been discussion of the war crimes issue, but there could be no public undertaking to give Milosevic immunity since it would undermine the independence of the U.N. tribunal on former Yugoslavia.

However, it was conceivable Western powers might give some private assurance that they would not present evidence to the prosecutor against the Serbian leader, without which the chances of an indictment would be slight.

"I haven't seen anything anywhere on paper or formally about that, but then one would not expect to," one diplomat said.

"There will be accords that are made public and others that are not. No one is going to acknowledge this," another said.

Other question marks remain over the outcome of two weeks of talks at this secluded French chateau southwest of Paris.

The ethnic Albanian delegation was outraged when it saw changes in a draft constitution for Kosova on Thursday that they said reflected Milosevic's demands. One adviser said he was worried that Hill would make further concessions on Friday.

"The concern is that if Milosevic says 'I want immunity for war crimes, lifting of sanctions and five extra changes in the constitution', the easiest thing to give him will be more changes in the constitution," the adviser said.

Diplomats and advisers to the delegations are convinced the Albanians will ultimately be satisfied with a NATO presence, the withdrawal of almost all Serbian forces and an elected Kosova assembly and government for a three-year interim period.

"The military annex of the agreement is a huge, huge gain for them. I'm confident they will sign on Saturday," said one diplomat in the six-nation Contact Group steering the talks.

The ethnic Albanians, especially the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) delegates, complain that the constitution has been amended to add a complicating second chamber of parliament composed of all Kosova's myriad ethnic minorities. It also includes unwelcome references to Serbia and Yugoslav sovereignty.

"Even if you get NATO troops in, if the constitution doesn't work there's a real possibility of creating a failed state in Kosova," the adviser to the Albanian delegation said.

Western officials play down the Albanian concerns, insisting most of the changes to the draft constitution have been cosmetic and playing up the fact that within one year of a deal, there would be no Serbian police in Kosova and only 1,500 Yugoslav soldiers guarding the external borders.

"If you think of where the Kosovars stood just a year ago, when Milosevic launched his crackdown in Kosova, that will be an extraordinary achievement for them," he added.

RAMBOUILLET, France, Feb 19 (Reuters) - If all goes according to plan, the war-torn Serbian province of Kosova should know within 24 hours whether it faces the nightmare of more violence or a new dawn for its ethnic Albanian majority.

The stark options have hung over the peace talks between Belgrade and its Kosova Albanian foes ever since the two sides entered Rambouillet chateau southwest of Paris on February 6 for two weeks of high-pressure "proximity talks."

At an arm-twisting session last weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned delegates that they stood at a crucial junction in Kosova's troubled history.

"One fork leads to chaos, disaster and more killing," she said. "The other fork leads to a rational solution that will achieve peace, democracy and human rights for all the people of Kosova."

If there is a deal, the vanguard of a planned 28,000-strong NATO peacekeeping force would be in Kosova within hours rather than days to begin securing a ceasefire.

But if the Saturday noon (1100 GMT) deadline for agreement brings failure and Belgrade is blamed, NATO will switch to preparing its threatened airstrikes against Yugoslav targets.

The U.S. Navy could fire 50 or more Tomahawk cruise missiles from several surface ships or two submarines already cruising in the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas, defence officials in Washington said. The first targets would probably be Yugoslav military communications installations in Kosova.

About 430 NATO strike and support planes are on 48-hour alert for further attacks. Fifty-one of the 260 U.S. fighters, including a dozen F-117A stealth bombers, were coming from bases in the United States, probably on Friday.

The timing of any first assault remains unclear, but it could be days rather than hours after a breakdown.

Albright and NATO Secretary General Javier Solana have warned of swift reprisals. But other members of the Contact Group -- the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Italy -- have raised doubts about how soon the bombs might fall.

Russia, long opposed to using force in former Yugoslavia, issued a "hands off Kosova" warning on Thursday while France argued a failure would not automatically trigger airstrikes.

French officials stress the attacks could start soon if Belgrade is clearly to blame, but the situation would be far more muddled if both sides bear responsibility for a failure.

For example, some Western diplomats fear Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic might accept a political agreement but reject a NATO military presence in a bid to split the big powers.

With a less clear-cut outcome, French officials say, the Contact Group could spend days debating whether Belgrade deserved enough blame to warrant any attack.

The ethnic Albanians would be harder to punish because they do not have fixed military positions. If they torpedoed a deal, diplomats say, Western countries would try to cut off their arms and money supplies and leave them to deal with Belgrade alone.

Diplomats in Rambouillet say the working assumption in the air-strike strategy is that Milosevic would cave in after the first bombs fell and finally accept a NATO peacekeeping force.

Since Milosevic has backed down several times before under pressure, diplomats say they do not see him holding out very long against waves of bombing raids weakening one essential pillar of his power, the Yugoslav military.

A vanguard of about 6,000 NATO troops is ready for prompt deployment to start taking up peacekeeping positions for a three-year interim period as Kosova becomes autonomous within Yugoslavia, holds elections and sets up its own government.

A French-led NATO force of 2,300, now stationed in Macedonia to evacuate ceasefire monitors deployed in Kosova by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) if needed, would soon cross the border to join the force.

According to the latest draft of the peace deal, Belgrade would have to reduce its force in Kosova to 1,500 troops along Serbia's external borders.

It would be allowed only 2,500 police in the first year and none in the second, by which time an ethnic Albanian police force would have been raised.

Many local police were to come from the ranks of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), which after a peace accord would be disarmed "in a staged but swift manner," as one diplomat put it.

How effective this can be remains a moot point. The NATO force is to go door-to-door collecting weapons from insurgents, but arms would be easy to hide in the rugged province.

The security annex issue seems to be the most delicate and problematic part of the document to be approved in Rambouillet. Both parties expressed their scepticism and concern with the issue. There are claims that this is the reason why the French and British Foreign Ministers, Hubert Vedrine and Robin Cook, went up to the Chateau, on which occasion they talked to the Albanians side, ensuring them that everything would turn out for the better.

This issue was worked out in such detail, that besides operation plans for deploying troops, the definition of zones where the troops are to be stationed has been foreseen as well. "Koha Ditore" sources say that plans call for such troops deployment as to reflect the engagement, trust, experience and approach that the troop-offering countries had towards the Kosova problem.

American troops are assigned to patrol in the Eastern corner of Kosova, namely in the Kamenicл-Viti-Gjilan line. Great Britain, with the largest number of troops - 8,000 - and on-scene commander of the force, Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, will have the central sector, otherwise the largest part of Kosova, which includes Llap, Prishtina, Ferizaj, Malishevл, Gllogoc and Skлnderaj. France will control Western Kosova, which means the Pejл-Gjakovл-Deзan, and all the way up to Prizren. Italy will operate in the north, in the Leposaviq-Istog-Zubin Potok-Klinл line. Germany, on the other hand, will control the south, namely the Preizren-Shterpc-Shtime-Kaзanik-Han i Elezit line.

There are claims that there was some friction between the French and the Britts, although it has been confirmed that this is the final deployment map.

"At first, the French, as hosts to the negotiations, insisted on deployment in Prishtina and central Kosova. However, a compromise seems to have been reached, enabling the British, the major US ally, to take the role of Americans, who have had the greatest hand in the Balkans. The French, on the other hand, will be assigned to the border with Albania, which is more acceptable for Blegrade. Italians, as Contact Group members that are known for their more-or-less pro-Belgrade stand, will be assigned to north-west Kosova, which borders Serbia and has a greater Serb population. Germans, which were positioned around the Sharr mountains logistically, now have the other side of the Kosova border, namely the region around Hani i Elezit. Americans were assigned to Anamorava, the geaographical part of Kosova that borders with Macedonia and Serbia, with the probable reason of serving as a guarantee for Kosova's territorial wholeness", Ylber Hysa, the executive director of KACI in Prishtina, evaluated.

Analysts do not exclude the possibility of this careful division of Kosova having the tendency to evade historical reflections of these countries in the region.

The rules of engagement will be the same as Bosnia, officials say. Commanders will have full authority to take any action necessary to protect their troops.

Some 2,200 Marines aboard a three-ship task force headed by the USS Nassau are steaming around Greece so they will be ready to go into Kosova within days of any peace agreement.

Thessaloniki, travel overland to a staging base in Macedonia, and then on to Kosova, where they would join other NATO troops that will eventually make up a force of 28,000 that will stay for at least three years.

Within a month or two the U.S. Marines would be replaced by 3,940 soldiers from the U.S. Army's First Infantry Division out of Germany, who will fly in, while their equipment is brought in through Greece and Macedonia. The Pentagon announced on Wednesday night that Defense Secretary William Cohen has ordered 51 planes to move to bases in Europe to prepare for possible airstrikes against Yugoslavia, if there is no peace agreement by Saturday's deadline. A statement from the Pentagon says that 12 F-117 stealth fighters, 10 EA-6B Prowlers, 4 KC-10 tankers and 25 KC-135 tankers will leave for Europe in the next 48 hours. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana could order strikes without further consultations with the 16 NATO nations, if he is convinced the Yugoslav leader is the roadblock to peace. NATO sources said the United States is arguing that a limited cruise missile strike would not only show Milosevic that NATO's threats are credible but could also make it easier for him to explain to his people why he had to make concessions to reach an agreement with the Kosova Albanians.

MOSCOW, Feb. 18—President Boris Yeltsin said today he would not permit attacks by NATO warplanes on Yugoslavia if the Kosova peace talks fail to settle the conflict there by a prescribed deadline of noon Saturday. Yeltsin said he had conveyed his views in writing and by telephone to President Clinton, but the White House said that the two leaders had not communicated recently.

Yeltsin, making a rare public appearance for a one-day Kremlin meeting with leaders of the European Union, was asked to comment on U.S. plans to move 51 additional warplanes to Europe for possible airstrikes on Yugoslav and Serbian forces if a draft plan for a peacekeeping force in Kosova is not accepted by the deadline.

"I gave my opinion both in writing and on the phone to Clinton that it won't work," said Yeltsin. "This is all. This is our whole reply. We will not allow Kosova to be touched." Yeltsin did not say how Russia might respond.

But soon after the ailing Russian leader spoke, the White House denied he had been in touch with Clinton lately, either by telephone or letter. The last time the two presidents talked was at the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein 10 days ago, and their last significant phone call was on Dec. 30, when Yeltsin did communicate a similar message, according to White House officials.

"Russia's views on this issue are well-known," said National Security Council spokesman David Leavy. "In the end, NATO will have to make a decision on the use of force based on its own interests and the interest of the region and the interests of the international community. We'll manage the differences with Russia in a constructive way."

U.S. officials played down the confusion over communications between the two leaders, saying they sought clarification from Russia after Yeltsin's remarks and were told they were taken out of context. "Clearly he's recovering from some serious medical history," said an official who asked not to be named. "I wouldn't read too much into it. Everybody makes a misstep here or there."

Such a discrepancy about a high-level communication between Moscow and Washington is unusual. Yeltsin's spokesman, Dmitri Yakushkin, said the Russian president later reiterated to the EU leaders "the thoughts that he had expressed in the message to Bill Clinton that he mentioned in front of the journalists." Yakushkin did not say whether it was a written or telephoned message.

Russia has expressed consistent support for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and has warned repeatedly against the use of force in Kosova, a predominantly ethnic Albanian province where rebels are battling for independence from Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic. Milosevic has resisted a plan to deploy 28,000 NATO peacekeepers in Kosova once a peace accord is signed, including 4,000 U.S. troops pledged by Clinton.

The negotiations between Belgrade -- capital of both Yugoslavia and Serbia -- and the Kosova Albanians have been underway for nearly two weeks at Rambouillet Chateau, outside Paris, under mediation of the six-nation Balkans "contact group," made up of the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Italy.

In a separate meeting here today with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Milosevic is "a catastrophe for his country" and is making it difficult to reach a solution that would keep Kosova part of Serbia. If Milosevic continues on his present course, he added, "in the long run this will bring about a secession of Kosova." If Kosova is not given some autonomy now under international control, he added, a "bloody war" is likely, and "Kosova will most certainly break away. whether the West likes it or not." The real issue, he said, "is how many victims it will take."

Ivanov said that if a peace deal is struck in the Kosova negotiations, Russia would consider contributing troops to a peacekeeping force. If the talks fail, he said, the only alternative is for another meeting of the contact group to look for a political solution. "There can be no other way of settlement in Kosova," he said.

The visiting EU delegation said that Yeltsin, who has been out of public view for weeks recovering from a bleeding ulcer, appeared healthy. "Today he was in very good shape, and therefore I was very surprised and very encouraged," said EU Commission President Jacques Santer. He was joined at the summit by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

"The pressure is mounting. We are negotiating the final stage," Knut Vollebaek, the foreign minister of Norway and chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said yesterday about concerted efforts to subdue Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic into accepting a peace process for Kosova under threat of a NATO military strike. Vollebaek was getting ready to meet Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at mid-morning and worrying about the possible need to evacuate some 1,200 OSCE "verifiers" in Kosova in case a warning by NATO Secretary General Javier Solana to Milosevic went unheeded.

Vollebaek has been jetting around the globe, fielding calls from Solana and comparing notes with French counterpart Hubert Vedrine and German opposite number Joschka Fischer. The OSCE chairman said he and Albright saw "eye to eye" on the need not to involve too many other groups in Europe and to "keep a lean structure with a clear line of command" in seeing through a three-year transitional period in Kosova that would lead to elections and the formation of democratic institutions -- with the backing of a military force to keep the warring factions apart.

The Russians, he said, have indicated they are willing to be part of this ground force, and added: "We would like to see an endorsement [for the force] by the U.N. Security Council and to have a clear mandate to be able to use force to defend ourselves."

Despite the intensity of his travel schedule and the maddening trill of cell phones popping out of his aides' pockets, the dapper Norwegian said he is enjoying his job. "It's a challenge. What I like is that it is an important job for Europe," he said. "It is a sign that the OSCE is more viable than widely believed and that there is a larger role for it. A successful outcome in Kosova is essential."

Singapore Ambassador Heng-Chee Chan hosted a power lunch Wednesday for some formidable uber-ladies. Some showed up in pearls and silks, others in tight black leather pants and stiletto heels, but the conversation was not about frippery. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; former congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; Phyllis Elliott Oakley, the State Department's assistant secretary for intelligence and research; Rose E. Gottemoller, the Energy Department's director of the Office of Non-Proliferation and National Security; Paula Dobriansky, vice president and Washington director of the Council on Foreign Relations; eight of Washington's nine female foreign ambassadors as well as other moverettes and shakerettes traded historic anecdotes about their first forays into the world of means and men.

O'Connor said she was offered a secretarial job when she interviewed at a law firm fresh out of college, a position she turned down, thank you very much. But her main plug to everyone was the importance of keeping the judiciary free. True economic development was only possible with an independent judicial system, she advised the foreign envoys.

The best tale came from Judith Richards Hope, senior counsel at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker, whose first Wall Street job was the lowest on the totem pole. She was promptly sent to fetch coffee by a male lawyer. She politely complied, headed for the elevator, crossed the street and lined up at the nearest Chock Full o' Nuts. When she returned, Hope was asked what she was owed. "Fifty bucks," she said dryly. "What?" exclaimed her exploiter. "I'm a lawyer," she snapped, "and that took half an hour." Hope is now a member of the small executive committee that runs Harvard University, known as "the corporation."

A question raised over lunch was whether Albright should have stayed away from King Hussein's funeral, as she did, because of a Muslim tradition prohibiting women from accompanying men to a burial. Should she have gone anyway to make a point? What if she had been president? Two queens, from Greece and Norway, got swept up with mourners to the grave just the same, Jordanian officials explained later to State's chief of protocol, Mel French. Nobody complained.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said yesterday that his government is investigating reports that a Cypriot passport was used in Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan's journey to Turkey after his mysterious capture in Kenya. If Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit were Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or Milosevic he "would have received thousands of bombs," Kasoulides added, noting, however, that he was not calling for the bombing of Turkey.

Kasoulides said the international community wants to solve the Cypriot question but is "unable to do anything about it." He said Cyprus may join the European Union eventually without its breakaway Turkish portion, if the dispute over the divided island is not settled by 2003. Kasoulides said that in talks with Albright on Wednesday, he revived a proposal for a military force from NATO and other sources to replace Turkish and Cypriot forces on the island. "Cyprus would become a demilitarized zone, and the force would stay there until confidence is restored," he said. "We want to demonstrate that what we want in Cyprus is peace and stability, not confrontation."




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