Washington’s strategy was based on the assumption that Yugoslav government, rather than the rebel army fighting for independence in Kosovo, would most resent a substantial foreign intervention to bring the fighting to a halt. The rebel soldiers and their ethnic Albanian supporters had suffered far more than government security forces, with more than 1,500 civilians dead and hundreds of thousands pushed from their homes.

But after 18 days of negotiations, it was Hashim Thaqi, a 29-year-old guerrilla fighter at the helm of the ethnic Albanian negotiating team in Rambouillet, France, who surprised Western diplomats by refusing to give the accord his unconditional approval. The result has been to defer by at least three weeks a Western plan to gain the ethnic Albanians’ approval and use it as a lever to pressure the government in Belgrade into also saying yes � a strategy that would be backed up by the threat of NATO airstrikes.

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