French defense chief - Kosovo goals need clarifying

WASHINGTON, Feb 23, 2000 -- (Reuters) The international community must clarify its goals for peace in Serbia's Kosovo province after a surge of violence between Serbs and ethnic Albanians there, French Defense Minister Alain Richard said on Tuesday.

"I think the effort we have to make this year is to clarify the political framework," which promised Kosovo "substantial autonomy" from Belgrade while refusing to back independence for the province, Richard told reporters on a visit to Washington.

"The possible goal is not clear enough," he said of the prospect for Serbs, ethnic Albanians and others living in harmony in Kosovo despite old animosities and ethnic cleansing that sparked the 1999 NATO-led air war against Belgrade.

Richard, in Washington at the start of two days of talks with U.S. officials, said at a meeting with defense writers that time was needed to calm Kosovo in areas such as the flashpoint city of Mitrovica, where French and other Western peacekeepers have struggled to prevent a new outbreak of ethnic violence.

"If we are determined and effective enough to control the violence, we can achieve some political and social results," Richard stressed.

He did not say what specific clarification was needed over Kosovo except that it should "include some rules for protecting minorities" such as Serbs remaining in Kosovo.

Richard said that while neighboring Bosnia was not yet "a splendid achievement" of international intervention, it was now much better off than four years ago.

The minister, who will hold talks with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and other administration officials and members of Congress, spoke at a news conference at the French ambassador's residence as Mitrovica was reported calm early on Tuesday.

The NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force said the streets had been calm overnight after running battles between troops and ethnic Albanian demonstrators seeking to reach Kosovo's largest remaining Serb enclave on Monday.

The clashes were the latest in a series of violent eruptions in Mitrovica this month in which at least nine people have been killed and more than 20 wounded, including two French soldiers injured in gun battles.

Richard conceded that the lack of a larger number of civilian police in Kosovo was "a serious problem" for military peacekeepers in the province, but said the United Nations, not the European Union, was responsible for that.

Cohen and NATO military officials have said 6,000 civilian police are needed in Kosovo and that only some 2,000 of them have been sent including about 500 Americans.

Richard countered that Paris had provided some 200 police and noted that France was only one-fifth the size of the United States.

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