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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rugova Meets Pontiff in Rome, Urges Belgrade to 'Save' Kosovo

VATICAN CITY -- Fresh from a meeting with Pope John Paul II, Kosovo's best-known ethnic Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, on Monday appealed anew to Belgrade to accept a international peacekeeping force and not to "clash with the world.''

"Belgrade must accept the demands of the international community. Above all it must accept an international force,'' said Rugova, who made a brief statement to reporters and took a couple of questions.

Rugova, who was allowed by Belgrade to travel with his family last week to Rome, thanked the pope for agreeing to see him so soon after the pontiff's return from Romania. John Paul returned to Rome on Sunday night after a three-day trip to Bucharest.

Of his audience with the pope, Rugova said: "I took the occasion to inform him of the situation. Kosovo is dead, Pristina [Kosovo's capital] is a ghost town, there are just soldiers and police.''

Speaking to reporters with the pope's spokesman at his side, Rugova said he appealed to Belgrade not to "clash with the world and to [instead] save Kosovo and its people.''

A journalist asked Rugova if he had been under pressure during an encounter in the early weeks of the NATO bombings with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, when cameras captured the two men shaking hands. Serbia's media also attributed statements to Rugova, including an apparent call for the end to the NATO airstrikes, but many in the West concluded Rugova was acting under duress.

Rugova was reluctant to answer the question. "I don't want to go back into it, and into the things that happened to me there. I prefer to leave those things for later,'' he said.

"I left [the country], I tell you sincerely, to work, to do something for the return of the people in Kosovo.''

Of the meeting with Milosevic, he said: "I held on to my position always, as I did then, before and now. I can say there was clearly the pressure of the situation for both sides, but personally, I don't like to talk about it.