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  •   Agreement for Kosovo Gets Closer

    German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, left, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. (AFP)
    By Steven Mufson
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, June 8, 1999; Page A1

    BONN, June 7 Foreign ministers from the seven leading industrial democracies and Russia were close to agreement today on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on Kosovo, reviving prospects for a Serbian withdrawal and NATO bombing halt under a peace settlement that could take effect this week.

    The meeting between the Group of Seven plus Russia came as Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the European envoy on Kosovo, reported that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had reaffirmed his commitment to the troop-withdrawal plan accepted by his government last week. Talks between NATO and Yugoslav military officers on the procedures for the withdrawal reached an impasse over the weekend when the Yugoslavs raised last-minute objections.

    Separately, in Russia, Yugoslav Ambassador Borislav Milosevic, the president's brother, asserted that the military talks would resume and that Yugoslav and Serbian troops would pull out of Kosovo, the embattled Serbian province at the center of the 11-week-old conflict.

    The central stumbling block in the negotiations both in Bonn and between NATO and Yugoslav military officials has been fixing a sequence of four key events: the start of a Yugoslav military pullout from Kosovo, a pause in NATO's bombing campaign, the passage of the U.N. resolution and the entry into Kosovo of an international peacekeeping force with a substantial NATO component. Western officials reported progress today on creating a timetable for the events.

    During eight hours of talks here, the foreign ministers whittled down Russia's objections from 20 to just two and nearly completed a five-page draft U.N. resolution that would sanction the deployment of the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo as Yugoslav army and Serbian police forces pull out.

    "When we began, we had a great deal of dissent," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. "We've been able to make progress in a constructive way." British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook added that while Russia had been accommodated on the language of the text, there had been no compromise on its substance and no substantive change from the terms the Belgrade government accepted last week.

    The talks will resume Tuesday, allowing Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov time to consult with his government on questions of whether, and how, the U.N. resolution would mention the international war crimes tribunal which has indicted Milosevic on war crimes charges and on the command structure of the security force that would occupy Kosovo after the Serb-led forces withdraw. In a telephone conversation with President Clinton today, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said he would press Ivanov to resolve the remaining points, U.S. officials said.

    Ahtisaari attended part of today's session, and said that he had called Milosevic after talks between Yugoslav and NATO military officers broke down Sunday in Macedonia. The Finnish envoy said Milosevic reasserted his commitment to the troop withdrawal plan he agreed to last week with Russian envoy Viktor S. Chernomyrdin.

    To keep pressure on the Belgrade government to live up to the terms for an early and complete withdrawal, NATO resumed heavy airstrikes against Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. NATO's commander, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, ordered allied warplanes to step up the pace of bombing raids only hours after the talks collapsed Sunday, alliance officials said. The attacks were scaled back when Milosevic accepted the peace plan.

    Yugoslav military leaders fear that a quick withdrawal of their forces could create a "security vacuum" that would put Serbs living in Kosovo in danger of retaliation by the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army or other embittered ethnic Albanians. Before the conflict began, ethnic Albanians outnumbered Serbs 9 to 1 in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic. More than 800,000 Kosovo Albanians have fled since March.

    The international peacekeepers could fill that vacuum by moving in behind the departing Serbs, but arranging such a quick entry poses diplomatic dilemmas. Moscow and Belgrade want a U.N. resolution to authorize the peacekeeping force, and together with China they want the U.N. resolution to be adopted only after NATO stops bombing. NATO, however, wants to keep bombing until the Yugoslav army and Serbian police forces begin a "visible and verifiable" withdrawal from Kosovo.

    To solve this timing difficulty, U.S. officials and Western diplomats said that they were trying to move forward on all four points, hoping to "synchronize" the events instead of putting them in sequence. "Synchronization is the word of the day," said State Department spokesman James P. Rubin.

    Under one scenario, the foreign ministers' talks on a U.N. draft resolution would be completed simultaneously Tuesday in Bonn and among NATO and Yugoslav military officers in Macedonia on the Serbian troop withdrawals. The resolution text would go to the U.N. Tuesday afternoon, and Serbian troops would begin to retreat, possibly followed quickly by the deployment of some NATO forces.

    While language on the U.N. resolution would be locked in, the vote by the Security Council would be delayed for a day or two until NATO could confirm enough withdrawals to justify stopping the bombing. Then the Security Council would vote on the resolution.

    "Hopefully, all this could happen, if things go right, in a 24- to 48-hour period," said a Clinton administration official in Washington.

    The talks in Bonn today began on a gloomy note, when Ivanov raised 20 objections to a draft resolution of only 33 paragraphs. "When the day began, it was unclear whether the Russians were going to negotiate," a senior U.S. official said.

    But as the day wore on, most of the issues fell away. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine suggested getting around the issue of whether a bombing halt would precede a U.N. resolution by negotiating the draft but postponing the Security Council vote until the troop withdrawals were confirmed. "The Russians need something on the sequence," said Anne Gazeau-Secret, the French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

    Rubin said that three tracks the U.N. resolution, the withdrawal of Serbian forces, and the bombing suspension "can be done . . . at roughly the same time."

    The key issues left at the end of the day included a reference to the U.N. war crimes tribunal. The United States wants the resolution to say at least once that U.N. member countries were responsible for cooperating with the tribunal, which recently indicted Milosevic in connection with his alleged complicity in atrocities committed by Serbian forces against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

    But the resolution would probably not require the international force to apprehend alleged war criminals. "I don't expect too many commanders or Milosevic to be sticking around after all Serb forces have left," said a Clinton administration official, arguing that the issue was a moot one.

    The command structure of the international security force remained under discussion. NATO wants the force to have its own command structure, with "NATO at its core," separate from the United Nations. It still remains unclear how Russia would fit into the command structure.

    Diplomatic sources here said the draft language states that the U.N. would authorize "member states and relevant international organizations to establish international security operations" in Kosovo. Such a force would submit reports to the Security Council, but would not be under U.N. command.

    A third disputed point regards whether the resolution would fall under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter, and thus not require Belgrade's approval. NATO has insisted on a Chapter Seven resolution, which provides for a "robust" peacekeeping force that does not require the approval of the host government for its actions. Western diplomats said they doubted Russia would oppose this in the end.

    In the military talks with NATO generals in Macedonia this weekend, the Yugoslav officers apparently sought to maintain "peacetime" levels of forces in Kosovo, which would mean between 10,000 and 15,000 troops would remain in Kosovo at least for some time to prevent a security vacuum. NATO insists that all forces must pull out and that at a later date a few hundred Yugoslav troops would be allowed back into the province as a symbolic affirmation of Serbia's sovereignty.

    A Clinton administration official in Washington, however, said the Yugoslav government had reiterated its commitment to pull out all forces.

    On another dispute, the United States and other allied governments have said they might be willing to give the Yugoslav and Serb forces 10 days, rather than the seven originally planned, to complete the withdrawal. The Yugoslavs asked for extra time to remove mines, and because of destroyed bridges and fuel shortages.

    Correspondent William Drozdiak in Brussels and staff writer Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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