Who Speaks for the Kosovars?

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NATO's bombing campaign has improbably united Serbs behind a president they love to hate, but it has had the opposite effect on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership -- and that could become a major problem for the West.

Washington is alarmed at indications that leading Kosovar Albanian moderate Ibrahim Rugova may be moving toward some form of peace deal with Milosevic. Rugova reportedly met Russian diplomats Monday, after Serb TV last week showed him meeting with Milosevic, in footage that was supposedly taken last Wednesday.

Although it has disputed the authenticity of that footage, NATO is plainly worried. State Department spokesman James Rubin implicitly sought to distance the U.S. from Rugova last Thursday, pointing out that the moderate leader hadn't been the head of the Kosovar delegation at Rambouillet. "The inference was that Washington didn't consider Rugova the person to deliver a settlement," says TIME correspondent Douglas Waller.

The Kosovo Liberation Army was less forgiving, with spokesman Jakub Krasniqi denouncing Rugova as a traitor. "If Rugova makes a deal with Milosevic and the Russians, that can be real trouble for NATO," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "Unlike the KLA, he's an elected leader and can legitimately claim to represent a sizable chunk of the population."

NATO had originally favored the pacifist Rugova over the insurgent KLA, and began dealing with the guerrilla group only after Serb repression had propelled them to center stage. "Washington was originally suspicious of the KLA, but embraced them at Rambouillet," says Waller.

That rapprochement may have been motivated primarily by Madeleine Albright's attempt to put the squeeze on Milosevic, and even then KLA hard-liners played hard to get by refusing to sign the peace deal for three weeks.

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