NATO Approves Strikes in Yugoslavia
By R. Jeffrey Smith and William Drozdiak
The bold NATO gesture was intended to maximize pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and leaders of Kosovo's separatist ethnic Albanian majority to move quickly toward accepting a Western-drafted peace plan that would restore autonomy to the province and end an 11-month war that has cost more than 1,000 lives.
NATO "has agreed in authorizing airstrikes against targets in Yugoslav territory," NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said at alliance headquarters in Brussels. "I will take this decision in the light of both parties' compliance" with demands that they begin negotiations in France by next Saturday and conclude them by Feb. 19.
As NATO announced its decision, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook delivered the Western ultimatum in separate meetings with Milosevic and with senior ethnic Albanian leaders who are seeking independence for Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic. Neither side ruled out formal acceptance of the proposal.
Milosevic told Cook during a 30-minute meeting in Belgrade, the capital of both Yugoslavia and Serbia, that he will consult with senior aides before deciding if his government will participate in the proposed talks. But in a statement issued later to state news media, the Yugoslav government said it preferred that negotiations be held in Serbia rather than France.
The statement also said the talks should include representatives of all of Kosovo's ethnic minorities, not just representatives of the ethnic Albanians who Western countries say compose 90 percent of the population. Yugoslav officials have long challenged that figure, and evidently hope that bringing in other minorities will dilute ethnic Albanian pressures for Kosovo's eventual independence.
After a meeting later in the day between Cook and three ethnic Albanian leaders in Skopje, Macedonia, only Ibrahim Rugova, the head of Kosovo's largest ethnic Albanian political party, and Veton Surroi, an independent ethnic Albanian newspaper publisher, gave their unqualified promise to participate in the talks.
Adem Demaci, the political representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that has been leading the province's secessionist revolt, said he could reply only after further consultations.
Cook was forced to meet with the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia because of a heavy snowstorm in Kosovo. He devoted most of the meeting to trying to persuade Demaci to endorse the talks, as senior Kosovo Liberation Army officials did on Friday, partly as a way of adding pressure on Milosevic.
But Demaci, who was imprisoned by Belgrade for 28 years for his dissident activities, is famous among Western officials for his stubbornness and complained to Cook that the killings of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo should stop before talks begin. The Yugoslav authorities have insisted that their efforts to squash "terrorism" -- as they describe ethnic Albanian guerrilla attacks against government security forces in the province -- will not end.
NATO has assembled a powerful armada of several hundred planes and warships in the Kosovo region. Within the past two weeks, the alliance has stepped up exercises and training for possible airstrikes against Yugoslav targets.
But the urgency of reaching a quick peace settlement has also forced NATO to think seriously about introducing ground troops into Kosovo to supervise any truce. NATO diplomats said a range of options is being studied, but the most plausible calls for the deployment of as many as 30,000 allied troops.
France, Britain and Germany have offered to send peacekeeping forces to Kosovo. The Clinton administration is considering contributing as many as 7,000 troops, according to NATO military sources. In a change of policy, administration officials say they are no longer opposed to placing U.S. troops under a European commander whose country is prepared to take the lead role in supervising the peace.
NATO diplomats said there was general unanimity in the alliance about fortifying the peace initiative with the threat of force. "The idea is to coerce acceptance of the peace initiative with a one-two punch, if necessary," said a senior NATO envoy.
Several European countries, however, remain uneasy about launching airstrikes because they fear a bombing campaign -- starting with cruise missile attacks against Serbian antiaircraft defenses and later including strikes against barracks housing Serbian security forces -- would encourage the Kosovo Liberation Army to press its drive for independence.
"We will not allow ourselves to be pushed into serving as the air force of the KLA," a senior European diplomat said. "We have to find ways to maximize pressure on both sides to reach a political settlement."
As a possible sanction if the Kosovo Liberation Army refuses to adopt a cease-fire, NATO forces are being prepared for possible deployment to ports and airfields in Albania, south of Kosovo, to thwart the flow of weapons and supplies to the ethnic Albanian rebels.
During his meetings, the British foreign secretary gave each side a list of 26 "nonnegotiable" principles for the talks, which were drawn from discussions held during the past six months by the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, Christopher Hill, a special American envoy for Kosovo matters. The principles were endorsed Friday by foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy -- the "contact group" that is coordinating international policy in the Balkans.
Cook told the ethnic Albanians that the provisions would give them "a very wide degree of self-government" in Kosovo, including control over their own police force and internal security apparatus. He added that the deal would be implemented by local political officials after an election supervised by the West.
Milosevic, in turn, was advised by Cook that reaching such a political settlement would enable him to extricate the government "from a conflict which neither side can win" on the battlefield, and "start to end its deep isolation from a world community."
The contact group nations were spurred into action after a Jan. 15 massacre of 45 ethnic Albanian civilians in the Kosovo village of Racak that international inspectors blamed on Serbian forces. Another 24 ethnic Albanians were slain Friday, when government troops raided a suspected rebel stronghold in the village of Rogovo.
The heavy snowfall yesterday gave the province a respite from significant violence, although the Serb Media Center in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, said a Serb civilian was killed and his wife injured when assailants threw a grenade into their bedroom in the northwestern village of Rakos.
The peace plan proposed by the contact group as a basis for the negotiations includes an immediate cease-fire and general amnesty in Kosovo, a promise to preserve the "territorial integrity" of Yugoslavia, protection of the rights of all ethnic groups and self-governance in Kosovo on matters such as taxes, police, economic development, health care, education, culture, roads and the judicial system. Both sides would agree that the deal would last for three years, and after that, Kosovo's legal status as a province of Serbia would be reassessed.
Smith reported from Skopje, Macedonia, Drozdiak from Brussels; special correspondent Guy Dinmore contributed from Belgrade.
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