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Serb Pullback on Track. Now Who Rules Kosovo?

Still unsettled is whether the police force will include ethnic Albanian rebels who are seeking independence.

A pleasant surprise, say diplomats, is that the cease-fire in Kosovo is holding, so far.

But still unanswered, despite an agreement last month between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and US envoy Richard Holbrooke, is: Just who will be in charge in Kosovo?

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Now that NATO isn't intervening, and Yugoslav Army troops and Serbian special police forces are withdrawing, part of a political solution to Kosovo is the implementation of a police force that is representative of the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo.

International negotiators, led by US Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill, are struggling with the question: Should the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which has been at the forefront of the armed struggle of independence for Kosovo, be included in that police force?

The outcome could affect the ultimate status in Kosovo, most of whose ethnic Albanians favor independence from Serbia, while the international community favors an autonomy similar to its arrangement before the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1989.

The fragile cease-fire in Kosovo follows Mr. Milosevic's crackdown earlier this year on Albanian separatists. After NATO threatened airstrikes, Milosevic agreed to withdraw police and military forces to pre-crackdown levels. Some 2,000 unarmed observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will verify compliance with the agreement.

Western diplomats are picking up their pace in recent attempts to forge a political agreement in Kosovo. The US has focused its negotiating efforts on Ibrahim Rugova, president of the underground ethnic Albanian government since 1991. Other politicians and the KLA have been consulted, but they complain that they are being left out of the decisionmaking process.

Although Mr. Rugova has said he wants independence, it is thought that he will settle for less - probably limited autonomy. There is likely to be a three-year interim autonomy period while new institutions are established. After that, the plan can be changed.

Meanwhile, if the KLA were included in the region's police force, it would have to fall under the control of civil ethnic Albanian leaders, who would likely be headed by Rugova. The pacifist leader is detested by men like Ramush Haradinaj, the KLA commander of the Dukagjini region.

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"The people who become a part of the police force will not be liked by the nation," says Mr. Haradinaj. "They will be traitors," he says in the KLA's western headquarters.

Yet, if the KLA were not included, there would be the possibility of inter-ethnic Albanian conflict between the police and the rebel guerrillas.

"Everyone is concerned about what will happen with the KLA," says a Western diplomat. "The KLA is the real wild card here because there is no one person who has control over them."

"It is true that the politics of Kosovo have changed," says Haradinaj in a rare interview. "But," he says resolutely, "the place of the [KLA] does not change; we will not change until the country is liberated."

On the other hand, the KLA seems to be increasingly splintered. Although Haradinaj, for example, claims to follow a central KLA command, he appears isolated in the western region and says he does not recognize a well-known KLA base in northern Albania.

Also, another group of ethnic Albanian guerrillas, known as the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo (FARK), remains in Kosovo despite attempts by the KLA to stamp it out. FARK has close ties to the mainstream ethnic Albanian political process and is despised by the KLA.

The ethnic Albanian civil population appears to be caught in the middle of all this. The return of some 300,000 internal refugees, who fled during the crackdown, has been slow.

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