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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kosovo Town Keeps Russians Out

ORAHOVAC, Yugoslavia -- Ethnic Albanian leaders in Orahovac said Wednesday they will ask their followers whether they are willing to back down and admit Russian peacekeepers after again rebuffing international demands to lift their barriers and allow the Russians into the town.

"The generals wanted to make us accept a compromise but we are not in the market to trade," local Kosovo Liberation Army commander Ismet Tara told reporters after meeting for a second day with German, Russian and Dutch officers. "We don't have any mandate from the people to do that."

Tara said protest leaders would talk to townspeople but "if the will of the people is not respected, the situation will become very tense."

There was no sign, however, that the local Albanians were prepared to give up the standoff f now in its third day f despite the fierce heat and strong international pressure.

Several thousand ethnic Albanians have been blocking the roads with trucks, tractors, cars and buses since Monday, when Russian troops tried to enter Orahovac to take over positions from the Dutch. Local Albanians claim Russian mercenaries fought alongside Serbs.

Russian General Vadim Andreyev appeared to confirm those allegations but insisted "we are a professional army. They were bandits."

That distinction meant little to the ethnic Albanians.

"People cannot tell the difference between mercenaries and soldiers because they all wore the same uniform, had the same weapons, spoke the same language and came from the same place," said a protest leader, Agim Hasku.

Kosovo's dwindling Serbian population trusts Russians, fellow Slavs, more than NATO to protect them from ethnic Albanians seeking revenge for atrocities committed under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown.

German General Wolfgang Sauer said the Russians will not try to force their way into town until they get word from the Germans to do so. Orahovac is located in the German sector of Kosovo.

In Washington, deputy State Department spokesman James Foley said he was confident the situation would be resolved with the Russians operating in Orahovac. "The fact is that we believe that Russian troops will act evenhandedly, they will fulfill their mandate in Orahovac, just as they have done elsewhere in Kosovo," he said.

In Pristina, meanwhile, a joint Serbian-ethnic Albanian council formed to advise the UN mission held another meeting, and for the first time both Ibrahim Rugova, the pacifist leader, and his rival, Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci, were present.

Both Thaci and Rugova claim leadership of Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian community.

A key issue under review was expected to be the so-called "cantonization" f the creation of separate Serb enclaves in Kosovo where Serbs could be better protected against ethnic Albanian militants. Most of the 200,000 prewar Serb population has already left the province.

While until recently, Western governments have insisted on a mutli-ethnic Kosovo, UN chief civilian administrator Bernard Kouchner has hinted that Serb enclaves in Kosovo could be considered as a temporary solution.

Last Friday, a Kosovo Serb community leader, Momcilo Trajkovic, proposed creating all-Serb enclaves that would exist as separate entities within the mostly Albanian province.