Holbrooke Astride Kosovo Powder Keg

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Richard Holbrooke continued his tough-talking tour through the Kosovo region today, hoping to walk both sides away from the precipice. "We are here to prevent the fighting escalating into a general war," said Holbrooke after meeting with President Milosevic. NATO officials today warned the region's ethnic Albanian leaders to drop their demand for independence and settle for autonomy. A war looked imminent following yesterday's statement by the Albanian government that it was on the verge of being drawn into battle because Milosevic's troops were firing at Albanian civilians along the Albania-Kosovo border.

Even if Holbrooke sweats Milosevic into standing down, it remains to be seen whether the West can stop Kosovo's Albanian majority from fighting for independence. Although the U.S. managed to meet with some local commanders of the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army, it will not be easy to persuade them to compromise. "The KLA is a very loose grouping with nobody in control and no recognizable political leadership, so it's hard to negotiate with them because you don't know who to negotiate with," says TIME Central Europe bureau chief Massimo Calabresi. Compared with his mission in the Balkans, Holbrooke's new position as Washington's U.N. ambassador is starting to look like a vacation.