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10 March, 1998
Five Balkan countries - Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) - agreed in Sofia yesterday on a joint declaration on the Kosovo crisis.
The move will reportedly inaugurate closer cooperation between Balkan states in jointly dealing with regional problems, and with FYROM participating in the group of five after a proposal by Greece.
According to diplomatic sources, the declaration's text is in favor of granting broad autonomy to Kosovo, inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians, but within the internationally recognized borders of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, stressing that the five nations were against altering borders in the region.
They also proposed that a 1996 educational agreement between then Serb president Slobodan Milosevic and ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova be implemented immediately.
At the same time they expressed regret at the violent repression of several peaceful demonstrations in Kosovo, while also condemning the use of terrorism as means to attain political goals.
The five Balkan countries called on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the leaders of Kosovo's Albanians to begin talks to settle the problem, while underlining the need for respect for ethnic Albanians' human rights.
They further proposed the return of international observers in Kosovo in order to monitor developments first hand.
The declaration ends by addressing an appeal to the United States and the European Union to contribute in preserving stability in the Balkans, stressing that the five nations were counting on their support in finding a solution to the Kosovo problem.
In Athens earlier, government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said Greece was participating in efforts to draft a joint text at the five-nation Sofia talks.
He said that Athens approach on the Kosovo crisis remained the same, namely, that it be resolved by peaceful means, through dialogue and without military intervention.
"In no circumstances should there be any change of borders," Mr. Reppas said, adding however, that Athens was in favor of autonomy within the framework of existing agreements.
Mr. Reppas also said Greece has long proposed the creation of a multinational rapid reaction force, when asked to comment on proposals in this respect by other countries, such as Turkey.
He added that Greece had raised the issue of a rapid reaction force at a meeting of Balkan defense ministers, well before the recent intensification of tension in Kosovo. Athens had not raised the issue of a headquarters for the force so as to a void placing the matter on the basis of "a discussion motivated by expediencies", he added.
Alternate Foreign Minister George Papandreou, meanwhile, told Greek state television in London yesterday that Mr. Rugova and Mr. Milosevic had to talk "to avoid the worst".
"Above all, there must be a clear message from the international community that Serbia must proceed to partial autonomy for Kosovo as well as from the other side that the international community cannot tolerate a new independent country, in other words, a change of borders in the Balkans, which would send shock waves throughout the region," Mr. Papandreou said. "A Rugova-Milosevic dialogue could contribute to the peace process as would the implementation of the educational agreement," he said.
"...there must be calm from all sides, no violence, no terrorist acts on the part of extremist elements as well as self-restraint on the part of Serbia in relation to the suppression of any expression of Albanian-speakers...so as to allow democratic procedures to prevail in developments in Kosovo."
Source: Athens News Agency