Serb, Albanian leaders declare 'pact against violence'

WASHINGTON, Jul 25, 2000 -- (AFP) Three days of talks between Kosovo Serbs and ethnic Albanians ended with both sides declaring a "Pact against Violence," the US State Department and the private US Institute of Peace said Monday.

The first intensive face-to-face discussions between ethnic Albanian and Serb Kosovars facilitated by the institute were aimed at getting the two sides working toward a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo, still torn by ethnic violence.

Participants who concluded the session Sunday agreed to respect the outcome of upcoming "free and fair" municipal elections, cooperate in identifying perpetrators of crime and to urge their respective communities to surrender illegal arms, the institute said in a statement.

They also agreed to counter Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's influence in Kosovo and to dissolve any illegitimate governing and security structures, the statement said.

According to Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artmije Radosavljevic, a joint leader of the Serb delegation, the pact is the first positive document reached in talks between Serbs and Albanians in 100 years, the statement said.

The round-table talks -- initiated by the US State Department and organized by the Institute of Peace -- began early Friday and ended at 11:00 p.m. Sunday (0300 GMT Monday), a spokeswoman for the institute said.

Delegates included General Agim Ceku, ex-Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) head who is now leading its civilian successor the Kosovo Protection Corps, as well as leaders of the two main ethnic Albanian parties, Hashim Thaci and Ibrahim Rugova.

The Serb delegation is led by Rada Trajkovic as well as Bishop Radosavljevic of the Serbian National Council (SNV). Some 40 Kosovo Serbs and ethnic Albanians participated.

The "Airlie Declaration," named after the Airlie House, Warrenton, Virginia location where the talks were held, will be available from the US State Department at 10:00 a.m. (1400 GMT) Tuesday.

It will fully outline commitments made by both sides and is expected to contain details of the role both Serbs and ethnic Albanians want the international community to play in Kosovo.

"Although agreements were difficult and hard-won, the spirit in which they approached each other was nothing short of remarkable," Institute of Peace executive vice president Harriet Hentges said.

She told AFP the talks had allowed for an "open, difficult but constructive exchange about some of the pain they felt, some of the anger."

"Recriminations were there but also a very keen listening about what the other was saying," added Hentges, who was vice chair of the meeting.

"There was genuine appreciation of the suffering that each community has experienced and that is a very important beginning, a very important first step.

"When people come out of a warring conflict situation such as these people you have to be realistic what your goals are," she said.

"We didn't have preset ideas" for how the talks would go, Hentges added. "We wanted the ideas to come from them. We wanted an open dialogue, some commitment to concrete steps. We got both of those."

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