March 10, 2000Albright sends spokesman to Kosovo
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is sending her spokesman, James P. Rubin, to Kosovo this weekend to try to head off a new explosion of violence in the troubled province of Serbia.
It is an unusual but not unprecedented mission for Rubin, who was Albright's channel last year to the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian-led guerrilla group that fought Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's troops.
On this three-day mission, Rubin said he would "express our profound concern about extremist activity on all sides" in Kosovo.
He will meet in Kosovo with ethnic Albanian officials as well as U.S. and NATO officials in Pristina, the provincial capital, and in other cities.
Rubin leaves Saturday night.
It is likely to be the last major assignment for the State Department spokesman, whose frequently televised news briefings made him well-known internationally during last year's NATO war in Yugoslavia. Rubin plans to leave the post next month.
Rubin's assignment last year began quietly in France, where negotiations in Rambouillet to end the conflict in Kosovo were faltering. His main task in the Serbian province was to cultivate Hashim Thaci, political leader of the Kosovo rebels.
While Albright flew home to tend to other business, Rubin worked with Thaci to reach terms acceptable to the peacemaking partners.
"Clearly, he knows I am close to the secretary of state," Rubin told a reporter in detailing his mission later on in Washington. "In that part of the world, the fact that I am on TV means that I am the daily face of the United States. He trusted me."
Rubin met with Thachi at the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, and then at rebel command headquarters outside Pristina. Later, he flew to Tirana, Albania, for talks with NATO officials, then saw Thaci again in his mountaintop retreat.
The mission apparently succeeded. The rebel force struck a compromise on its demand for an army.
Current tensions prompted European officials in Brussels, Belgium, to consider Friday how to head off a new explosion of violence.
Tensions between Serbs and ethnic Albanians are on the rise, particularly in the mixed city of Kosovska Mitrovica. But Albright said she is not giving up on diplomacy.
The city, 20 miles north of Pristina, has been the scene of repeated ethnic unrest over the past several months that has claimed several deaths and caused dozens of injuries.