Annan urges U.N. role in Kosovo peace plan
April 15, 1999
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN)-- Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed Thursday that the United Nations should play a role in "legitimizing" a military presence in Kosovo and endorsed Russia's calls for a peace deal.
Annan's call came as the Yugoslav conflict appeared to reach a new stage with Germany putting forth a proposal that called for a pause in the bombing if Yugoslavia agreed to NATO conditions which would include an international peacekeeping force.
"As we move forward into the future, the role of the United Nations in legitimizing a military presence on the ground, and giving it a mandate, and allowing it to operate, becomes absolutely essential," Annan told CNN Thursday.
NATO called the German plan a "food-for-thought paper," but did not immediately endorse it.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is president of the European Union, said EU ministers had met with Annan and would push for a U.N. Security Council resolution incorporating the German proposal for a bombing halt as well as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic accepting NATO's demands.
"It is up to the Yugoslav authorities to fully accept the international demands and begin immediately with their implementation," said Schroeder.
Reading a draft EU statement, Schroeder said Russia's contribution to the Kosovo peace effort was "indispensable."
Russia has strongly opposed the NATO air operation and has severed its relations with the alliance, which began launching airstrikes March 24 after Yugoslavia refused to halt its crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
Russia was part of the six-nation Contact Group -- along with the United States, France, Britain, Germany and Italy -- that negotiated a peace agreement for Kosovo in Rambouillet, France, in February. That agreement was signed by the Kosovo Albanians, but rejected by the Serbs.
"If the international community is going to make progress on this issue, I think it's essential we all come together, and work with the Russians who are playing a very constructive role, and I'm in touch with them," Annan said.
The U.N. chief also appeared to warn NATO countries to maintain an open mind in allowing negotiations to progress.
"I think it is only when we all come together, put collective pressure, that we do make progress in instances like this. This happened in Bosnia, and I think we need to do the same thing here. I know there are those who believe the bombing is going on, the fight must go on, but that does not exclude the possibility of a political agreement."
NATO terms for a cease-fire have so far required a withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, the return of refugees, the deployment of an international peacekeeping force and a move toward self-government for the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Claims NATO jets fired on civilians
Meanwhile, the United States, Pentagon and NATO were investigating claims by Yugoslav officials Wednesday that three NATO planes fired on two columns of fleeing ethnic Albanians in southwestern Kosovo, killing as many as 85 civilians and injuring 25 more.
NATO officials said its planes struck a Yugoslav military convoy near a highway bridge just east of Djakovica.
The Pentagon said NATO pilots halted the attack when they saw civilian vehicles in the "proximity" of the military convoy. The officials said they still believe only army vehicles were hit -- but one Pentagon official said: "We don't know what happened."
NATO's top commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, told CNN an investigation was under way and, the pilots have been interviewed and cockpit camera video was being reviewed.
In a separate incident, Pentagon sources, relying on U.N. reports, said Kosovar Albanian refugees arriving across the border in Kukes, Albania, said they were attacked by Yugoslav planes on the road from Prizren to the border.
However, Jeff Rowland of the U.N.'s World Food Program, reporting from Albania, said refugees, most still in shock from being shelled, have been unable to say whether the planes were Yugoslav or NATO, or from which direction the aircraft had come.
"What they are saying is that they saw three planes flying overhead and heard bombs hitting them. Two of the bombs they said hit two different tractor convoys," Rowland said.
Belgrade lays the blame
Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic rejected the accounts that Yugoslav forces carried out the attack on Kosovar Albanians.
"It is completely and absolutely false. This didn't happen. What happened is that this is the worst illustration of what NATO aggression has brought to all the Balkan peoples, to all the citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," he told CNN.
Vujovic said about 60 civilians were killed in one column and 25 were killed in another column. He said another 25 people were wounded.
Video shot by an Associated Press cameraman in the presence of Serb officials who took him to the scene showed bodies strewn along a rural road near what appeared to be a line of wagons pulled by tractors.
At least one intact body was seen in a bomb crater.
Serb TV later showed images of what appeared to be a convoy of farm tractors and trailers. Around them were strewn bodies and body parts.
It was unclear whether either set of pictures showed the target NATO says it hit.
The developments came as NATO's Operation Allied Force entered its fourth week of bombing -- and U.S. officials suggested the military campaign may last for months.
Early Thursday, a series of loud explosions were heard in Belgrade and Serbian television showed fiery explosions in the suburb of Rakovica.
Serbian TV also said two of its transmitters were hit near the towns of Uzice and Cacak.
And as the fighting continued, humanitarian and NATO officials expressed concern over increasing evidence of rape by Yugoslav forces. There also is growing concern over the fate of an estimated 700,000-800,000 displaced Kosovar Albanians still trapped inside Kosovo, facing a severe lack of food and medicine.
Hundreds of the elderly are dying from starvation, while other Kosovar Albanians are hiding in forests and hills without shelter and still vulnerable to Serb shelling, U.S. intelligence officials say.
The Clinton administration said Milosevic will be held personally responsible for the well-being of the displaced ethnic Albanians.
"These are in a sense Milosevic's hostages. He's refusing to allow the basic rules of the road to be implemented. That is, that international relief agencies get access to them so that they can help them provide the bare minimum," State Department spokesman James Rubin said Wednesday.
Officials said they are struggling to find ways to help the displaced Kosovars, saying it is too dangerous for NATO to organize air drops. One option is to have third-party humanitarian groups, perhaps from nearby Greece, go in to provide supplies.
British Defense Secretary George Robertson charged that Milosevic was using indicted war criminals to carry out a campaign of terror in Kosovo.
"Veteran General Ratko Mladic and rogue paramilitary leader Arkan have been recruited by the Belgrade leadership to command and supply units responsible for massacring and raping" thousands of ethnic Albanians, he said.
Clare Short, the British secretary for international development, said there was increasing evidence of the use of rape in the Djakovica area of Kosovo.
"We have reports of systematic and organized use of rape," said Short.
Correspondents Richard Roth, Matthew Chance and Bill Hemmer contributed to this report.
Kosovo or bust, KLA guerrillas ready to fight
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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