Primakov: Milosevic ready in principle to talk peace
Yugoslavs want NATO strikes to stop first
March 30, 1999
Primakov made the comments upon arriving from Belgrade, where he held several hours of talks with Milosevic, on Tuesday. In the West, Milosevic is widely considered the force behind a reported campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Albanian population in Kosovo.
Primakov said Milosevic told him that Belgrade might be willing to reduce the Yugoslav troop presence in Kosovo should there be a cease-fire.
Milosevic also demanded an end to western support for the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army -- which wants independence for the Serbian province -- and political negotiations that would respect the interests of all religious groups in Kosovo.NATO, however, has said it will stop its airstrikes only if Milosevic embraces the Kosovo peace prosposal presented by major powers in two recent rounds of international peace talks in France -- or if NATO thinks that the Yugoslav army's capability has been reduced to the point where the troops cannot continue their crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Primakov, who came to Bonn for talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said he considered the result of his mediation mission as "a good start" for further talks.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin had asked Primakov to go to the Yugoslav capital to try to negotiate an end to the Kosovo conflict.
"The crisis in the Balkans demands not emotional evaluations, but well-balanced and decisive actions," Yeltsin said Tuesday.
Russia, a traditional ally of the Serbs, has been a firm opponent of NATO airstrikes and has repeatedly condemned the bombardments.
The mission by Primakov, who is accompanied by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, is the most high-level mediation effort since the NATO strikes began.
Russia is a member of the Balkan Contact Group, which also includes the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Italy. The Contact Group presented an international peace proposal for Kosovo at recent peace talks in France.
When only the ethnic Albanian leaders signed the document, NATO and all group members except Russia favored airstrikes against Yugoslavia. Moscow demanded further negotiations.
At a NATO news conference in Brussels earlier Tuesday, spokesman Jamie Shea described the Kosovo situation as "a humanitarian disaster of enormous proportion." And British Air Commodore David Wilby, a NATO military spokesman, told journalists that "Serbian ethnic cleansing has reached new heights."
Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping of Germany -- which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union -- said Tuesday that Milosevic "will try over the next two to three weeks to turn Kosovo into a region of destroyed villages, where the adult male population will have been interned or killed and the rest driven out or fleeing."
International aid agencies have increased emergency aid efforts for the tens of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees who have fled to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that NATO plans to intensify its air attacks. Blair said he spoke with U.S. President Bill Clinton and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and "we are absolutely at one on this: The answer to what is happening is to intensify the attacks."
Yugoslavia insists that ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are not being persecuted or targeted but are getting caught in fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian separatists.
State-controlled Serb radio said Yugoslav gunners shot down two NATO planes early Tuesday, one south of the Montenegro capital Podgorica and another over the southern Serbian town of Vranje. Western military spokesmen denied any planes had been lost.
NATO has acknowledged only the crash of a U.S. F-117 stealth fighter Saturday.
Primakov in Belgrade, meets with Milosevic
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