US, France want Contact Group meeting on Kosovo

PARIS, Mar 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac said on Wednesday they were worried by the situation in Kosovo and called for a ministerial meeting of Contact Group major powers to discuss the problem.

Chirac's spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said the French and U.S. presidents spoke by phone and agreed that allied forces had to remain unified in the face of extremist violence in Kosovo.

"The French and American presidents noted a certain worry regarding the developing situation," Colonna said, adding that they believed "dialogue between the main countries concerned needed to be reinforced".

To achieve this, the two heads of state said the Contact Group, comprising the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Russia, needed to meet at a ministerial level.

The group, which was active last year during failed peace talks between the former Yugoslavia and ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, has not met at a senior level for several months.

Clinton also spoke to Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema on Wednesday and pledged more U.S. funds for the United Nations civilian mission in Kosovo.

"In the light of recent tensions, the two men agreed on the urgency for new initiatives to strengthen the U.N. mission, reinforcing in particular the police force and providing the economic means necessary to do so," a statement from D'Alema's office said.


United Nations administrators and the KFOR international peacekeeping force have faced major problems in the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, where tensions between resident Serbs and ethnic Albanians has reached boiling point.

French troops in Mitrovica fired teargas and stun grenades on Wednesday to disperse a crowd of Serbs angry that their self-styled guards had been ordered away from a bridge in the flashpoint city.

Clinton and Chirac stressed the importance of remaining unified against "extremists of any persuasion".

Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters in Paris that administrators running Kosovo had the situation "more or less" under control and dismissed allegations by Amnesty International of human rights abuses by French troops.

"It is always easy to criticise," Annan said during an official visit to France.

"Bernard Kouchner and Klaus Reinhardt are in the process of dealing with a very difficult and very complicated situation. They are trying to do their best without enough police and without enough resources," he said.

France's Kouchner is the U.N. Kosovo administrator while Germany's General Klaus Reinhardt is the commander of the KFOR international peacekeeping force in the Yugoslav province.

"You have seen that they have more or less mastered the situation for now. I hope they will continue to do so," Annan told reporters.

London-based Amnesty International accused NATO and the United Nations on Monday of failing to observe high human rights standards in Kosovo and singled out French troops serving in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica for special criticism.

France announced earlier on Wednesday that it would deploy an additional combat company, numbering some 150 soldiers, in Mitrovica in the coming days, while Italy has said it will send 360 more soldiers to the southern Yugoslav province.

"This is a test of the determination of democracy in Europe," French Defence Minister Alain Richard said on Wednesday after meeting Annan.

Original article