Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright urged Kosovo's fractious leaders in exile today to work together for a democratic Kosovo, while a key Kosovo Liberation Army leader said his organization will "transform itself into a political entity."
Hashim Thaqi, a leader of the ethnic Albanian separatist force and prime minister of Kosovo's self-proclaimed interim government, also reaffirmed after meeting Albright that "the KLA will soon declare that it will not fire on retreating Serb forces." Thaqi said that declaration would come by Wednesday.
Seeking to keep the rebels from reneging on an agreement they signed in March at the Rambouillet peace talks in France, Albright told Thaqi and two other Kosovo Albanian leaders to abide by commitments made then to disband as a military force and accept autonomy within Serbia and Yugoslavia for at least an interim period. Those commitments were made reluctantly, and the rebel group -- its ranks since swelled with embittered war refugees -- has been gaining momentum.
"The KLA will demilitarize and enter into a process of transformation; Kosovo's political leaders will, I hope, cooperate to make Kosovo truly democratic," Albright said. "Security guarantees will extend to all Kosovars without regard to ethnicity and to foreigners working in Kosovo."
Albright also used the meeting to discourage refugees from trying to return home too quickly. "The refugees now in Macedonia and Albania should wait to return home until the international community has taken measures to safeguard them from land mines and to see that humanitarian needs will be met," she said.
The cooperation of ethnic Albanians is important to Albright and the NATO allies. Albright has said repeatedly that NATO's objectives are to end ethnic strife and to ensure democracy in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, the dominant of Yugoslavia's two republics. Both of those objectives could be undermined by fighting among ethnic Albanian factions.
In the past, the State Department has looked upon the KLA as a ragtag collection of ideologues, and many officials have accused the rebel group of violent actions against both ethnic Albanian rivals and Serbian foes in its quest to spearhead the drive for an independent Kosovo. "We talked today about the coordination of the three political factions in Kosovo," said Rehxit Qosja, an exiled intellectual. "This is in the interests of Kosovo and the Albanian people. We have to speak with a unified voice for our cause."
The sight of the three Kosovo Albanian leaders -- pacifist Ibrahim Rugova also attended -- standing side by side behind Albright as she answered questions from reporters was unusual. Rugova, who was released from house arrest by the Belgrade government several weeks into the war, has been harshly criticized by other ethnic Albanian leaders because he met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade during the conflict. Rugova later indicated that the meeting took place under duress and that he supported the NATO bombing.
Thaqi, an austere 31-year-old, said he would work for democracy in Kosovo within the context of the KLA's new political role. "We didn't take up arms because we like them or because we like war. We took up arms because we want freedom in Kosovo," he said.
All three men and Albright sidestepped the issue of Kosovo independence, which has been the KLA's goal. Albright said that "we are not here to take anybody's dreams away" and that the U.N. Security Council resolution drawn up by the Group of Seven industrialized democracies and Russia would include "language about a political process that will describe how the final status of Kosovo will be achieved."